You may already be addicted to the Graham Street store serving up surfers sashimi based on Hawaiian flavours. Steph Kudus, the chef behind the shop, has expanded her version of poké out into Sheung Wan, and now Wanchai. Steph tells us of Pololi’s (that’s Hawaiian for hungry) unexpected success and the challenges of owning her own business in HK
What made you decide to open your own place?
After moving to Hong Kong, I was missing my staple meal in Hawaii and was shocked that poké was nowhere to be found. I started making poké on weekends and realised that it was a hit amongst my friends and colleagues who were always on the go. Making poké for myself was difficult as I could not get sashimi-grade seafood in chunks at a reasonable price, it was there and then I realised we were missing high quality and tasty poké despite Hong Kong being one of the food capitals of Asia!
You’re opening your third shop, was it always the plan to expand to other locations?
We did not anticipate how well Hong Kongers have taken to our poké, as we were the first. After seeing how our customers enjoy sitting outside on Graham Street, I was on the look out for something in Wanchai with low traffic so that our customers could enjoy a laid-back atmosphere despite being in Hong Kong, which is typically fast-paced. Swatow Street offers people an opportunity to hang out with their friends whilst enjoying a beer and some poké.
Tell us about the ethos behind Pololi?
We focus on vibrancy, fresh, healthy, and tasty food on the go within our community. The feeling of community is one of the most important elements in Pololi's ethos, we want people to think of it as their local food shack where they can swing by for some great food, whether on their way home from work, or the gym, or just rushing in to grab lunch.
Where do you get your fish from?
Our fish arrives daily and is mainly from Southeast Asia. We strive to source top sashimi grade seafood from our suppliers and will not compromise on quality as we need to make sure it is safe for our customers. All the poké that we make today is served today, hence we run out almost everyday and encourage our customers to call before dropping by our shops or come early.
How often do you change your flavours?
Our flavours change daily but we try to balance the day’s offering to a good mix of spicy and non spicy, mayo and non mayo, and ahi or non-ahi. We do keep the traditional spicy everyday, as it is the most popular flavour. I do like to test new flavours out and those will pop up in the shop out of the blue. We’ve played around with scallops, shrimp, cobia, tuna, salmon, tempeh, and even pumpkin when it comes to proteins alone!
Where do you get your inspiration in the kitchen from?
Mainly from visiting the most popular poké shacks around Hawaii when I was in school and visiting family. On some days I would eat poké five to six times a day just to try them all. Our basic flavours are based on the most common flavours I’ve found in Hawaii and added our own spin to them. The fact that poké means “to slice or to cut”, gives me the power to play around with interesting flavours and layers and put forth a well balanced sauce that pairs well with our proteins.
What difficulties do you face as an entrepreneur in the city?
Finding dynamic and driven people to join our Ohana (“family”). Most people do not see Food & Beverage as a long-term career but more of a part-time job. We offer all of our staff a career path that is based on each of their strengths and weaknesses as at Pololi, we want nurture our staff and support their growth.
What’s been the biggest learning experience for you in owning your own business?
Never compromising on product quality, even if people have never tried poké before. Hong Kongers have advanced palates and they know the difference the instant they taste food. At Pololi, we close when we run out because we want to make sure we are putting the best product forward.