The Seattle-based Hawaiian fusion poke restaurant is opening a Tacoma outpost. Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max will open at 1716 Pacific Ave., in the former home of Granola’s Frozen Yogurt.
Owner Max Heigh — a family friend of Sam Choy, a James Beard award winning chef who is regarded as one of the founding fathers of Hawaiian regional cuisine — started his poke food truck in 2011. He has since expanded to three trucks and opened a brick-and-mortar location last May near Seattle’s Rainier Valley neighborhood. Choy is a business partner, but Heigh is the restaurateur in charge of daily operations of the Seattle-area restaurants.
Heigh has kept his eye on a Tacoma expansion for some time. “A lot of (Tacoma-area) folks were making the hike up here. We started looking around Tacoma. It’s always been in our sights to open there, but the stars aligned and here we are.”
He looked at the Sixth and Stadium neighborhoods, but Heigh said the downtown location on the University of Washington Tacoma campus had just the right mix of what he requires in a brick-and-mortar location. “It just has a great vibe to it. There’s been a lot of movement down there with different breweries and restaurants opening up,” said Heigh.
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Heigh is among a handful of Seattle restaurant owners who have expanded or plan to expand to Tacoma, including Seattle’s Elemental Pizza, Chow Foods, Tom Douglas Restaurants, Rhein Haus and Casco Antiguo.
Tacoma presents an attractive package with affordable real estate and a less competitive restaurant market than Seattle, according to Heigh.
“Tacoma is an emerging city, and we want to be part of that,” he said.
Heigh’s restaurants are best known for poke (pronounced poh-kay), which is one of the cornerstones of Hawaiian cuisine. It’s cubed raw tuna (and sometimes other raw fish) splashed with a spicy-sweet sauce or other add-ins, including seaweed, greens or rice. At Sam Choy’s, poke is served as a wrap, a salad or in a rice bowl.
Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max explores the culinary mishmash of Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Filipino that influences Hawaiian cuisine. He serves a version of Korean fried chicken and chicken katsu. An entire menu explores the Hawaiian favorite musubi, which looks something like nigiri, but made with Spam, rice and seaweed. At Poke to the Max, musubi is made with a choice of kalua pork, spicy tuna, katsu chicken, Spam or pickled vegetables.
Heigh said diners should expect prices around $8-$12 at the restaurant that will seat about 30. The style of service will be fast-casual, where diners order at a counter and find their own seats. He’ll serve lunch and dinner. Eventually, he intends to expand the beverage offerings to beer, wine and sake.
An opening date has not yet been set. Heigh is in the early stages of applying for permits.