While many share a fondness for burgers and shakes the old adage remains true: One cannot live on Swensons alone. Lucky Akronites and those in the surrounding areas have a quick, healthy and locally minded option. 

Poké Fresh is a new local fast-casual chain serving poké, a Hawaiian dish that is finally making its way to the Midwest. So what is Poké? According to Jonathan Gotschall, owner and creator of Poké Fresh, “Basically, it’s a deconstructed sushi bowl.” 

“Imagine all the proteins you’d find in a sushi roll — ahi tuna, salmon — and the veggies — avocado, cucumber, edamame, carrots, pineapple. Then imagine adding those to a bowl of brown or jasmine rice and some mixed greens. Finish it off with a variety of sauces and crunchy toppings, and you have a poké bowl,” Jonathan explains.

Poké Fresh is not just for those who enjoy sushi — you can add chicken, shrimp, crab sticks, or do all vegetables. Poké Fresh seeks to be a quick but still healthy option and can accommodate almost any diet. “If there is a special dietary need you have, 99% of the time we can make something that works for you,” Jonathan says.

As for other offerings, they have locally made pineapple sorbet, local drinks, bubble tea, and soup during cooler weather. And Johnathan is always looking to add more. 

People have been a little confused about the concept so far, with one person even mistaking it for a place selling Pokemon merchandise, Jonathan says. But they’re starting to see a good number of regulars. 

As a self-described entrepreneur, Jonathan is often keeping a lookout for interesting foods he thinks people will love. After selling his first creation, a gourmet cupcake business called  Caroline Cupcakes, he was looking for something new to bring to the area. He took inspiration from a trip to Washington, D.C.

“My first encounter with poké was in Washington, D.C., at a place called Abunai Poké. I was visiting my sister who lived there at the time, and knowing that we both loved sushi, she insisted on taking me to this new poké place that had just opened that I had to try. It was literally love at first bite for me,” Jonathan says.

Johnathan opened the first Poké Fresh in Wallhaven in January 2018, and a second location at Portage Crossings in Cuyahoga Falls in May. 

Since opening, he sought to keep the Poké Fresh as local as possible, sourcing as much as he can from the Akron area. Poké Fresh uses a specially made Pav’s Creamery pineapple sorbet, sells NORKA craft sodas, HiHo Brewing Co. beer, and has the staff uniforms created at Rubber City Clothing. He is also looking for local artists to display their work as a way to decorate the two locations. 

“When you support local, you support home, which is a really big deal to us,” Jonathan says.

Although he’s locally focused, Jonathan will admit he is not from Akron. He grew up in Massillon and still lives there. However, he chose Akron for Poké Fresh because of his fond memories of Highland Square area and because he knew the people in Akron were the right kind of “adventurous eaters.”

Jonathan is also investing in growing a dedicated staff, offering $14 per hour to start. “As a small, locally owned business, I don’t have to pay a monthly franchise fee to anyone, so that gives me a little more flexibility with what we can offer potential employees. I also have always lived by the idea that if you treat your employees better than everyone else, they will hopefully return that in how they work for you,” Johnathan says.

And while Jonathan doesn’t want to grow too fast, prioritizing quality over rapid growth, he would love to see Poké Fresh grow throughout Northeast Ohio. Johnathan says, “We’re always looking to add new and exciting menu items, and we always are asking customers what they’d like to see next.”

Poké Fresh is located in Wallhaven at 46 N Hawkins Ave suite 215 and in Cuyahoga Falls at 2220 Portage Trail. They are open every day from 10:30 am to 9 pm

Ken Evans finds himself leaping from life to life, putting things right that once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.

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