North Siders griping about traveling to the West Loop to taste the fish at Aloha Poke Co. have great news. Owner Zach Friedlander signed a lease on Thursday to take over the former Bánh Mì BáGet at 843 W. Belmont Ave. in Lakeview. Friedlander hopes he'll open this second location by the second or third week of June.
The lines of customers waiting at Chicago's French Market continue to grow, and those Asian-influenced poke bowls have become one of the most-popular lunches in town. Friedlander is prepared for a surge of other poke restaurants coming to Chicago and wants to expand his footprint. He opened Aloha Poke in March, and he wants to open even more quick-serve locations. That was always a possibility when developing the business plan.
"I guess as a small business owner you want to see the best-case scenario," Friedlander said, adding that Aloha Poke could serve as the jumping-off point for a burgeoning restaurant group.
The shift from the bar to restaurant scene has been an enjoyable one for Friedlander, a former general manager at The Bedford in Wicker Park. He doesn't drink booze, but in Lakeview he wants to expand the non-alcoholic beverage program, perhaps add an agua fresca. They don't have the space to do that at the French Market.
Friedlander pointed out that poke travels well, as the majority of their business will be take out. There will be a counter space and maybe one table. The new location will be open from breakfast to dinner time, seven days a week. They're hiring right now, and the opening times could be adjusted depending on staff and customer volume.
Friedlander doesn't expect the lines to dwindle much in the West Loop after he opens in Lakeview. He finds many potential customers are already scared off by the 45-minute lines, and the second location will give them an opportunity to try his food. Friedlander appreciates the support from friends and family and is humbled.
"Seeing them come back week after week, in line week after week— they help drive the decision to take this thing farther and farther and farther," he said.
Fans near Wrigley Field, commuters off the CTA Belmont Red and Brown Line stop and locals make the area a ripe location for Aloha Poke. But don't expect a Cubs-friendly decor. Friedlander grew up a White Sox fan.