FreshFin Poké

Wisconsin Gazette - - Front Page - By Michael Muck­ian Con­tribut­ing writer

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 BOWLS

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.”

PHO­TOS: MATT HAAS

Prior page: FreshFin on North and the curry shrimp. This page, FreshFins’ own­ers.

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