aloha poke Zeppelin Station
A bowl from Aloha Poke at Zeppelin Station in Denver

New Aloha Poke CEO says ‘poke is here to stay’

Chris Birkinshaw comes to Chicago brand from Potbelly

Aloha Poke, one of the leading sushi-in-a bowl chains in the Midwest, has tapped Potbelly veteran Chris Birkinshaw as the brand’s first CEO.

Chris Birkinshaw
Photo: Aloha Poke

Birkinshaw started last week at the two-year-old Chicago-based poke chain. He takes over as founder Zach Friedlander moves “forward in his career,” Birkinshaw told Nation’s Restaurant News.

The CEO is charged with growing the brand’s footprint beyond its core Chicago market, where it operates nine restaurants. The 13-unit chain is slated to open eight locations across the U.S. in 2018 including units in Southern California and Washington D.C. Some of the new market development will be done through franchising.

Aloha Poke is among a fray of poke chains that are scrambling to grow across the U.S. The poke craze accelerated two years ago and includes dozens of chains and independent stores serving the Hawaiian-inspired raw fish bowls.

Birkinshaw said Aloha Poke is part of a larger movement toward clean food in the fast-casual sector, which after years of gains has seen a slowdown.

“I believe poke is here to stay, and like any emerging fast casual restaurant business, Aloha Poke Co. will continue to deliver what customers value: the fresh, healthy, and delicious poke bowls that have become a part of their lifestyle,” he told NRN in an email.

Birkinshaw launched his restaurant career at Starbucks in store-level operations, eventually moving to Potbelly Sandwich Works. At Potbelly, held various senior management positions across departments including Operations Services, District and Regional Operations and Franchising.

Beyond its core Chicago market, Aloha Poke has locations in Minneapolis, Denver, Los Angeles, and Costa Mesa, Calif. The brand is backed by investor partners including Levy Family Partners and Lakeview Investment Group. 

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter @FastFoodMaven

Correction: May 02, 2018
The article was updated to reflect the company's current unit count and growth plans. Chain representatives misstated the information in an earlier version of the story.
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