FreshFin Poké has brought one of the restaurant industry’s hottest new trends to the Milwaukee area — and its expansion has been almost dizzyingly swift.
Nate Arkush and Andrew Foster, owners of FreshFin Poké, have in short order brought to Milwaukee one of the restaurant industry’s hot new trends — and their expansion has been almost dizzyingly swift.
The first FreshFin — which prepares and serves Hawaiian sushi bowls known as poké (pronounced poh-kay) — opened in January 2017 on North Avenue on Milwaukee’s east side. By fall, there was a second FreshFin in the Third Ward’s Landmark Building.
Opening two locations so quickly would be enough for most newly minted entrepreneurs, but Arkush, 36, and Foster, 29, had other ideas.
Within a month, the pair will open a third FreshFin at The Corners of Brookfield, the shopping center at 20111 W. Bluemound Road.
By summer’s end, expect to see a fourth location open in the lobby of The James, a new block of student apartments adjacent to the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
“We’re targeting Madison for midAugust, definitely before the students start arriving,” says Arkush.
The entrepreneurs credit the popularity of poké for their rapid expansion. The dish starts with sashimi-grade raw fish. The fish is cubed and served in a bowl with vegetables and homemade sauces that add a blend of flavors and textures to the mix.
“The poké concept offers a lot of flexibility for the customer with a lot of flavors prepared quickly and cleanly,” says Arkush, who researched and created the menu. “Poké fits into the millennial lifestyle really well in terms of flavors, concept and price point.”
Madison has a number of poké restaurants, with new ones opening all the time, and the dish is popping up as appetizers on a variety of menus. Milwaukee is less saturated with the dish, but FreshFin is creating a demand that will no doubt see the rise of more such eateries.
Nonetheless both Arkush and Foster are confident the quality and variety of their dishes will help them maintain a competitive edge. “We hadn’t planned to move as fast as we had, but we received a phenomenal response in Milwaukee,” Arkush says.
ENTREPRENEURS MOVED TO MILWAUKEE
Arkush, a Kalamazoo, Michigan, native, has worked in restaurants since age 15. He attended culinary school at Austin (Texas) Community College, then earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of NevadaLas Vegas. From there he spent 10 years working at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Chicago, mostly in food service, and during that same time earned an MBA from DePaul University.
He moved to Milwaukee and began mapping out what was to become FreshFin Poké.
Foster followed a similar trajectory. Growing up near Bozeman, Montana, he also spent time working in restaurants, but earned an engineering degree at Montana State University. He moved to Milwaukee for an engineering consulting job, taking time out to earn an MBA at UW-Madison.
He graduated from the program last month.
Foster met Arkush on North Avenue and the pair developed a kinship that led to a business partnership.
“Andrew has been instrumental in developing the Brookfield and Madison projects,” Arkush says. “He has phenomenal business acumen and has stepped up our game in training, operations and financing.”
The restaurants’ six signature bowls — as well as a variety of build-it-yourself bowls — come in regular and large sizes, and Milwaukee diners already have determined their favorites.
“The spicy tuna bowl is our top seller and is the most classically poké dish we have,” Foster says, “but the house favorite is the curry coconut shrimp because it’s different compared to our other poké concepts.”
The spicy tuna bowl ($9.95/$13.95) begins with its namesake fish, then adds edamame, jalapeño, crispy onion and tobiko (flying fish roe). The mix is dressed with sriracha aioli and shoyu sauce.
The curry coconut shrimp bowl ($9.95/$13.95) starts with shrimp, then adds mango, cilantro, carrots, toasted coconut and crispy onion. It’s dressed with an Ethiopian curry sauce.
The kitchen also uses chicken cooked
sous vide in two bowls, as well as produces a vegan-friendly Zen Bowl ($8.95/$12.95) that blends shiitake mushrooms, sweet potato and avocado for its protein, then adds carrots, cucumbers, daikon radishes, cilantro lime and the classic house sauce.
The chicken is served at room temperature, and the shrimp is cooked but served cold. All of the fish is served raw.
FreshFin also offers sides of truffle crab salad ($3.95) or seaweed salad ($2.95). The restaurant does not serve alcohol and has no current plans to do so, Foster says.
The restaurant also sponsors Earn a Bowl, Give a Bowl, a loyalty program that awards one free poké bowl for every 10 bowls purchased. In addition to the free bowl, another bowl is donated to a local homeless shelter or food pantry, currently the Milwaukee Rescue Mission.
“We just started last month and we’ve already given away 300 bowls,” Foster says. “We expect to be donating thousands of bowls per year in each market.”
Based on the success of its initial locations, FreshFin’s menu will stay the same in both of its new restaurants. Both Arkush and Foster have their sights on more FreshFins, mostly limited to the Milwaukee and Madison markets, in the very near future.
“We have some places in mind in Milwaukee’s northern suburbs and Wauwatosa also offers some good potential,” Arkush says. “Initially, we’d like to stay close to our Milwaukee core.”
Prior page: FreshFin on North and the curry shrimp. This page, FreshFins’ owners.