116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Continuing a trend set by restaurants like MIX, another specialty cuisine is landing in Marion.
Although other restaurants have offered poke on a larger menu of Asian and Polynesian selections, Ohana Poke Shop in Marion is the first place to specialize in the Hawaiian cuisine with a casual, build-your-own line.
“It’s set up like Pancheros or Chipotle, but instead of building a burrito bowl, you’re going to build a poke bowl,” said Kayleigh Phillips of Cedar Rapids, owner of the shop that opened on July 6.
First, you pick your bowl size — regular or large — and start with a base choice of white rice, brown rice or fresh greens.
Then, choose from a variety of cooked or raw proteins. Sushi and sashimi lovers can think of poke as a more complex, deconstructed sushi and choose from tuna and salmon.
“People kind of look at it like sushi in a bowl,” Phillips said.
For those who prefer cooked meats, there’s no need to discount poke — choose from shrimp, chicken, pork belly and tofu.
Next, pick mix-ins from move than a dozen fresh vegetables, fruits and specialties like seaweed salad to introduce yourself to some adventurous flavors. Vegetables chopped daily add a fresh, crunchy texture that complements your choice of meats on a warm bed of rice or crisp layer of lettuce.
Add a sauce, a crunchy topping, and you’re ready to try Marion’s newest restaurant.
If all the options sound overwhelming, fear not — the fast casual concept has six signature poke options to choose from, like the Triple Threat, with tuna, salmon and crab topped with spicy mayo and jalapenos, or This Little Piggy Went to Sea, with crispy pork belly and shrimp topped with cucumber, edamame, pineapple and seaweed salad.
And if you miss Dole Whips from your last trip to Disney World or the pineapple fields of Hawaii, Ohana has another treat in store for dessert. The frozen treat is available in pineapple and other rotating fruit flavors like strawberry and pomegranate. You can even get a “twist” of two flavors in one dish.
What: Ohana Poke Shop
Where: 2931 Seventh Ave., Marion
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
Phone: (319) 200-5667
Website: See Ohana Poke Shop on Facebook
Details: Available for dine-in and carryout. Bowls start at $13.49.
Phillips discovered poke by watching Guy Fieri on TV eight years ago. Back then, poke hadn’t yet caught on even in larger cities like Chicago, Minneapolis or Des Moines. After trying it while visiting a friend in Arizona, she was hooked.
After interruptions from the pandemic, and having her son, she decided poke was the perfect fit for her first restaurant opening. After 12 years bartending and serving, she was ready to go back to work, but wanted to do it differently.
“It’s always been a dream to open by own restaurant,” Phillips said. “We don’t have anything else like this around here, so I thought what better time to bring it to the area.”
Poke — the last letter of which sounds like the e in cafe — has come to life in the small shop, where the casual concept and easy nature of customizing your bowl has proved helpful in overcoming a lack of familiarity with the cuisine.
With a split customer base — about half of customers are unfamiliar with poke, and half miss eating it from cities they used to live in — being up close and personal with the mix-ins makes even picky eaters a little less hesitant, the owner said. Pickled radish might not stand out on the written menu, but its bright yellow color on the line always catches the attention of customers, who often ask to try one or two slices.
With a variety of quick, healthy and lean options, the new shop offers a welcome variety that diners can’t necessarily get from the salad section on the menu at other fast-food restaurants.
With prior experience at restaurants like QDogs BBQ in Marion, Phillips noticed how well Asian and Asian-adjacent restaurant concepts did in the area, even with unprecedented challenges during and after the peak of the pandemic. Co-owners Tim Phillips and Sonia Kach, Kayleigh’s parents, said the city of Marion has provided a friendly business environment that made Marion an attractive location for a fledgling restaurateur.
“I thought it would do really well,” Kayleigh said. “I was confident that people would be ready for something like this.”
Despite 12 years in an industry with high turnover and burnout rates, the enthusiasm she’s found with customers is what sustains her passion, making her dream possible.
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