Durham, N.C. — Poké is a trending food right now. Never heard of it? Well, you’re about to! ZenFish, a poké bar that focuses on using fresh (and often local) ingredients, will be arriving to Durham’s Ninth Street (in the ground floor of the new Solis Apartments) next month.
I love sushi, so I was already excited to hear about ZenFish months ago. After learning more about owner Janet Lee’s passion and ideology, I’m even more thrilled to welcome her establishment to the Bull City! Read my Q&A with Janet below to find out more about this popular Hawaiian dish and what’s in store for the space.
BBC: What exactly is poké and why is it becoming so popular?
ZENFISH: Poké is a classic Hawaiian dish made up of raw fish that’s cut into cubes. Traditional poké was made from fish, seaweed, Hawaiian nuts and salt, but we are taking a spin on it and adding other ingredients and different sauces.
I think it’s becoming so popular because it’s just so flexible. It’s customizable and people can choose exactly how they want their bowls to be made. It’s fresh and healthy and fast! The combination of add-ons is endless, so you can eat poké multiple times a week but still enjoy different flavors.
BBC: When and how did the concept for ZenFish come about?
ZENFISH: As a student, then working full-time in the corporate world, I struggled with trying to find convenient places to grab healthy food on the go. The name ZenFish comes from my passion for promoting happiness and love. I want people to be able to come into this "no-judgement" space not only to grab a bite to eat but also to feel welcomed and at peace. I plan on having “feel good” messages in the space because I feel that if you look at a positive message, even when you’re having a bad day, it’s a reminder that everything will be ok.
My love for poké, sushi and people, and my obsession with Hawaiian culture, drove me to take a break from the corporate world and start my passion project, ZenFish. My goal is to be as eco-friendly as possible while delivering feel-good food to people and giving back to the community while still running a profitable business, which is what we will be constantly working on and trying to improve as sustainable/eco-friendly products and ingredients are a lot more costly.
Yet, I still want to keep the poké bowl price low for my customers. I’m working on this one day at a time, and ZenFish will continue to move towards that goal. My plan is also to have a seasonal menu that will include local seasonal ingredients from nearby farmers, because I recognize the importance of supporting each other as a community.
BBC: What will be some of the different ZenFish bowl options?
ZENFISH: People can customize their own bowls, which is what I love about it; I feel there’s something for everyone. I will also have a vegetarian option.
Eventually, I will have more cooked poké bowls for those who are not a fan of raw fish. I have lots of ideas brewing for the coming months!
One signature dish will be the “Grateful Bowl,” which is one of my favorite go-to poké bowl combinations: three scoops of protein, green onions, white onions, crispy onions, radish, masago, sriracha aioli and avocado over a bed of mixed greens/white rice.
BBC: What will the price range be like?
ZEN FISH: Bowls will be reasonably priced at $9.95 for a regular and $11.95 for a large. High cost ingredients, such as avocados, will be an add-on for $1.
BBC: What will the restaurant’s atmosphere be like?
ZENFISH: People will find it most convenient for fast-casual take-out orders, as it’s a small space (about 300 square feet for seating and 300 for the kitchen). I like that it will feel cozy. There will be about 15 seats in the restaurant and three tables outside for nice weather. There will be bar seating and a community table made by local Durham company Bull City Designs. So, you can come meet other people at the community table or have “me time” at the bar.
BBC: In what ways will ZenFish be different from other poké restaurants people may have tried elsewhere?
ZENFISH: Incorporating the community. Serving some local ingredients from local farmers and working with local Durham companies like Bull City Designs for our central furniture pieces and decor. Serving my favorite local energy drink, Mati, plus NC Kombucha, as well as local NC beers! Personally, I think poké goes very well with a cold brew.
We’ll have the can and bottle favorites as well as rotating local NC beers, which is another way we’re trying to incorporate local business.
We’ll also be doing composting. I am happy and proud to be working with a local compost company, Food FWD, to ensure our food waste and other products are composted rather than sent to a landfill. At ZenFish, we are trying our best to tread softly on this Earth, and it starts with composting what we can.
BBC: When do you anticipate opening ZenFish and what are the big items left to cross off the list?
ZENFISH: We were supposed to open spring 2016, but after some delay, we hope to have our soft opening in January 2017 with a grand opening in February (just in time for warmer weather). I’m so grateful and excited for the opportunity to be a part of this ever-growing and expanding community of Durham!
This post was originally published on the Bites of Bull City blog.