Apronomics: Andrew Shih of PokeDoke
Poke (po-kay), a type of raw fish salad, has been a staple of Hawaiian cuisine for decades. More recently, the dish has made it to the mainland with restaurants focused on the Polynesian specialty popping up on the coasts. In St. Louis, landlocked as we are, it remained a relative unknown on the culinary scene until Andrew Shih and his siblings opened the first poke shop in the StL. Last October, they launched PokeDoke in the Central West End, a fast casual spot that lets diners choose their base, protein, veggies and sauce to create individualized poke bowls.
Shih, who serves as managing partner of PokeDoke, grew up in the restaurant industry. His parents own Hot Wok Cafe in Chesterfield, and his aunts and uncles also have eateries. Unsurprisingly, food was an important part of his life from an early age. “Growing up, food was how we celebrated,” he says. “Even now, traveling is all about where we’re going to eat. I’ve always considered myself a pretty big foodie.” Despite this, he didn’t always know it was the career path he wanted to pursue. “I think about halfway through college, I decided that I wanted to go into the family business,” he recalls.
After working with his parents at Hot Wok Cafe, Shih eventually took over running the restaurant. His parents still have an active role, and he appreciates the dynamic of working with family. “There’s no one you trust more than family, and it’s nice to be able to count on someone regarding all aspects of the business,” he says. “We have our ups and downs like any family, but we’re very close and can talk easily regardless of the situation. I know a lot of people say going into business with relatives is hard, but I couldn’t imagine it any other way.”
This stability is something Shih brought to PokeDoke as well. He developed the idea with his siblings, Annie, Leon and Steve. Inspiration for the concept struck while on a family trip to California. “Poke is a concept you see everywhere if you travel to places like Los Angeles, Houston or even Chicago,” he notes. “With our restaurant background, we felt confident that we could bring it to St. Louis successfully. It’s something the market needed.”
The plan required research. Shih traveled to various poke restaurants across the country to explore flavors. An acquaintance in Huntington Beach, California, even let him spend a day working at her restaurant so he could get a feel for daily operations. “I found that things operated pretty similarly at every poke restaurant,” he says. “What differed were the flavors, so I brought in the ones I liked.” Working with the right vendors was critical to ensuring PokeDoke’s success, according to Shih. “People wanted to know where we would get all the fresh fish,” he notes. “The biggest research component was determining where to source our ingredients. We get everything super fresh, and it’s great quality.”
When it came to location, Shih instantly was taken with 8 S. Euclid Ave. “The Central West End has a young, active crowd,” he says. “With the hospitals and schools in the area, there is a lot of foot traffic. In St. Louis, there aren’t a whole lot of areas like that. We thought the fast casual concept would do great here.” The investment in the location has paid off. According to Shih, the local response has been extremely positive. “Poke definitely is something different for the Midwest, but I’m blown away by how everyone has taken to us,” he says.
Shih is looking forward to spreading the love by bringing PokeDoke to food festivals and starting a catering component. “It’s a really cool concept to bring to a private party or corporate event,” he says. The restaurant also may expand with new locations. “We’re looking farther west because people are asking for it,” he says. “I’m looking forward to continued growth and expansion.”
base| white rice, soba noodles
protein | salmon, tuna
toppings | cucumbers, white onions, radish, green onion, masago, pineapple, seaweed salad, edamame
drizzle | spicy mayo, eel sauce