If you were to walk into Poké Bar, one of Cornerstone’s newest restaurants, and say that you’d never been there before, owners Steve Huynh and Camy Wong would make sure that you got a free sample of everything.
“I want people to have the same experience that I do when I get poké back in Hawaii,” said Huynh. “When the workers at Safeway in Hawaii see me walk into the store, they immediately pull out their toothpicks because they know about every single thing that they have out and they’ll help me decide what I am going to buy. That, for me, is really cool because you are able to taste a little bit of everything so you can decide what you really want.”
The little restaurant is located near the bus loop closest to UniverCity, nestled right in between food establishments such as Donair Town and Pizza Hut.
What is poké?
Poké, Hawaiian for “chopped,” consists of sliced raw fish that is mixed with a variety of seasonings such as shoyu (soy sauce and sesame seeds) or spicy mayo. Customers have the option of customizing a poké bowl, in which they choose their poké, a base of either rice, salad, or quinoa, and a variety of toppings ranging from edamame to crab meat. Patrons can also choose one of the specialty bowls that Huynh and Wong have developed.
The dish evokes similarities to Japanese sashimi, which is a popular dish at sushi restaurants. So what makes poké stand out from it’s Japanese counterpart? “Every culture has their way of doing raw fish,” explained Huynh. “[Japanese] flavours are different because they focus on the fish flavor, but we focus more on the seasoning. Hawaii actually has lots of Asian influence, as there are people from Korea, Japan, and the Philippines [who live there]. [So even if] poké is Hawaiian, it has an Asian flair.”
Back to Burnaby Mountain
The couple began dating in 2010, and took a trip to Hawaii in March of that year. It was at that time that Huynh decided to introduce his then-girlfriend to poké. Wong was initially hesitant about trying poké at first, as she had experienced getting sick from eating raw fish as a child and didn’t eat it in adult life. But once Huynh introduced her to poké, her perception of eating raw fish changed, and the couple has had a passion and craving for poké ever since.
Wong, an SFU business school alumna (she graduated before it was even called the Beedie School of Business), was happy to go back to Burnaby Mountain to start up this restaurant with her husband.
“When I went to school, there were less options for food, and I always thought it would be amazing if I could bring students [a greater] variety of choices for food,” she said. “When we decided to open Poké Bar, we did consider a few other spots, but in the end I wanted to make poké for the students. I felt that I understood what it was like to be a student, and the needs of the students and therefore, a fast, healthy, and affordable twist on sashimi was exactly what I wanted to do.”
Once Wong had graduated, she travelled to several places, including Las Vegas and Cancún, and went on a four and a half month backpacking trip in Asia where she visited countries like Hong Kong, China, Thailand, and Laos, to name a few. Once she returned, she took a real estate course at UBC and became a realtor, and ended up stumbling upon the spot for lease where Poké Bar is currently located. The couple had always wanted to bring poké to Vancouver, and it was the perfect place for them to begin to achieve that dream.
The couple opened the restaurant in the fall semester with the intention of bringing a delicious, unique, and healthy food option to campus. “We thought it’d be really cool to add another cuisine up here,” added Huynh. “We want Burnaby Mountain to turn into a place where people can eat good cuisine, a place where people can come up for dinner.” Their location is the first Poké Bar in Burnaby and, until they opened, the only poké places were in Downtown Vancouver.
Why Variety Matters
When asked about what the future plans were for Poké Bar, Huynh was animated as he described making trips back to Hawaii in order to bounce ideas off his relatives that would add creative flair to their dishes. Structurally, he mentioned how he’d eventually like for Poké Bar to be structured like a fish market, in which fish would be laid out in bulk and people could pick and choose what they would like to purchase. This layout would also potentially lower the prices they sell their poké for. In the long run, they hope to open other locations as well.
Both Huynh and Wong advocated for a diversity of food options on campus. “The amount of time that students spend on campus can sometimes be more than the time they spend anywhere else during the semester,” explained Wong. “If there isn’t a wide variety of food options on campus, life on campus would be a lot more boring. Students yearning for variety would have to leave the mountain to surrounding cities for other food options.”
“There is so much good food up here already, and I love the fact that you guys have so many varieties of food up here already, and we decided to open Poké Bar to add to that,” Hunyh remarked.
Poké Bar is open from Monday to Saturday from 11a.m.-7p.m.
Huynh’s go to poké order: shoyu (sesame seeds and soy sauce) seasoning with any type of fish
Wong’s go to poké order: spicy ahi tuna