Possibly the biggest trend since quick service pizza, poke stops are popping up all over Orange County. But what separates POKE-RIA from the pack is not only their growing business (four locations and counting this year alone), but the option to dine on ceviche. We get to know founder Mike Joher, as he explains where his business acumen comes from.
Please explain the differences between poke and ceviche.
Poke and ceviche are similar in that they are both sushi until marinated in their dressings. However, ceviche is a lime-based sauce and poke is a soy-based sauce. Ceviche fish is cured by the citric acid from the lime. The fish base from the cooked fish is a key ingredient in our sauce. It is known to be an aphrodisiac, and is full of powerful nutrients. Thus, the name “Leche de Tigre” meaning Tigers Milk.
A stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true.
Poke shops are trending and opening everywhere, that is very true. But none of them are offering ceviche, especially not offering a variation of ceviche. Which, based on my analysis, ceviche is soon to be the new trend following poke.
What are the favorite fish/toppings by customers?
Roasted Peruvian corn is definitely a crowd-pleaser at all locations. It adds texture and a bit of salty flavor to the poke and ceviche.
Your fondest food memory:
Sushi Samba at the Palazzo Las Vegas, “offering flavors from Japan, Brazil and Peru in a club-like setting.” I will never forget that experience. It's what made me realize that the POKE-RIA concept would be a success. My vision was brought to life at this restaurant.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Yuzu – Japanese citrus.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Variation of cultural foods, from steak and seafood to Vietnamese and Thai.
Tell us about the inspiration to not only focus on poke, but ceviche as well.
The inspiration behind POKE-RIA stemmed from my culinary experiences while I was traveling to Peru and Hawaii. The first time I tried Peruvian ceviche, I became hooked; that's when my quest for the best ceviche recipe began. The many variations and unique recipes make ceviche exciting. The POKE-RIA concept was influenced by world-renowned chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Gaston Acurio, whose empire was built on Peruvian-Japanese fusion-based cuisine. Peruvian ceviche and poke are along the same spectrum. It's all about the sauce.
Where was your most recent meal?
Thai food. Crying tiger spicy beef salad and spicy catfish. Can't go wrong with that. Those great flavors make me forget about my troubles.
One food you can't live without.
Seafood! I love all forms of it. Crustaceans, fish and all shellfish. I don't discriminate. If it's from the sea, it's for me.
How do you like your poke/ceviche bowl?
I like my poke bowl basic: ahi tuna, spicy poke sauce, green onions, sesame seeds and topped off with our famous crunchy garlic chili oil. I like my ceviche spicy. Therefore, I go for the Rocoto ceviche, which is a red Peruvian, pepper-based dressing. Mix that with red onions and cilantro, and top it off with roasted Peruvian corn and habanero peppers for an added kick. That'll get those endorphins going!
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Thinly sliced chicken breast coated with a mix of flour, white pepper and garlic salt. Saute in butter. Once the chicken is golden brown, pour in a cup of white wine (watch out for the flames!). Serve with an Italian salad and garlic butter rice.
Where are you currently located, and do you have plans to open more in the next year?
We currently have four locations which opened this year. Our first store opened in February on East 17th Street and Tustin Avenue off the 55 freeway in Santa Ana. Our second store opened in March, located at the Southeast entrance of the Main Place Mall in Santa Ana, next to Boudin Bakery. Our third store opened in May in Laguna Niguel at the Ocean Ranch Center on Golden Lantern and Camino del Avion; it's close to the ocean, so you can take that ceviche or poke bowl and enjoy on the beach.
Our fourth store opened in October. It's located in Irvine off of Culver and the 5 freeway in the Heritage Plaza center. We're about to open our fifth store in Corona off the McKinley exit and 91 freeway at Corona Hills Center. Anticipated opening date is on December 5, just in time for the holidays. We are looking forward to bringing POKE-RIA to Anaheim Hills in early 2017. Our goal is to become a nationally recognized brand by the end of 2017. Which at that time we will offer franchising opportunities for anyone wanting to open a POKE-RIA in other states and countries.
Hardest lesson you've learned.
You can't please everyone, but we will do our best to capture the attention of the masses.
When you're not in the restaurant, what are you doing in your free time?
Building brands is my passion. I'm an entrepreneur at heart and a visionary by nature. Whether I'm traveling cross-country in my RV, or flying to other countries, I always seem to be captivated by unique trends which are not typically found in areas around me. With the ultimate goal of providing people with something special.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Typically, with my busy schedule breakfast is a rare occasion. My breakfast of choice would be a bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon, capers, red onion and sliced hard-boiled egg.
Last thing you looked up online?
Building materials near Corona. Can't allow any delays in opening the Corona location on time. I must always make sure the workers have what they need to make steady progress on the buildout.
What's your favorite childhood memory?
Working at my father's nightclub when I was 12. I have so many memories from growing up in the nightclub industry that I could write a top-selling documentary.
What would you like to be doing if you weren't in this business?
Developing unique projects and inventing new things that can change the world.
A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.