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FireFin Poke Closes All Five Restaurants

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The owners say the concept wasn’t making money

FireFin Poke Shop’s original Loop location.
Marc Much
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

In a stunning move, less than a week after opening a Lakeview location, the owners of FireFin Poke Shop have announced the closure of all five restaurants. The owners of the chain, which debuted in June 2016 in the Loop, said the concept wasn’t making money. FireFin locations in The Loop, Lakeview, West Loop, and Wicker Park closed on Monday.

FireFin is a collaboration between Anshul Mangal and chef Rodelio Aglibot — who goes by The Food Buddha. Mangal runs a company called Now Open Project which also includes The Furious Spoon, a ramen shop with locations in Wicker Park, Logan Square, and inside Revival Food Hall in the Loop. FireFin and Furious Spoon’s creations predate the company. The company’s first project was to be a Lakeview food hall. Now Open planned a FireFin inside the space but that will no longer be the case.

Mangal said the company was monitoring FireFin’s financials for sometime and that last week he and his partners decided to close: “I’m disappointed and sad,” Mangal said. “It kind of just sucks all the way around.”

He added little clarity to the timing of the shutters. The timing is unprecedented, coming only five days after opening a new restaurant at 802 W. Belmont Avenue: “It’s just the economics of the restaurants just weren’t working for us — we felt it was in the best interests of the restaurants to close.”

Now Open will now focus on growing Furious Spoon, a brand which Mangal said continues to prosper. The company plans to open more ramen shops next year. When asked if FireFin was a victim of expanding too quickly, Mangal said he couldn’t say: “I’m not sure,” Mangal said. “Hindsight is always 20/20 in the restaurant business, I’m not sure if having as many locations would be better or worse.”

The relationships between Aglibot and the company’s other partners appear to be intact. Mangal said the were “as good as good can be” under the circumstances. Chef Shin Thompson is the main culinary partner at Furious Spoon, tapping into his Japanese heritage the same way Aglibot did with his Hawaiian heritage at FireFin.

Chicago now has only one poke chain (Aloha Poke Co.), and it’s unclear if FireFin’s demise is indicative of management or a mainland trend dying down. Afterall, many native islanders feel mainland poke isn’t very exciting.

There were signs of problems in September, when a plan to open a FireFin at 177 N. Morgan Street was nixed. Aloha Poke founder Zach Friedlander has heard the rumblings. Over the last month, he heard that some of FireFin’s spaces may soon become available for lease. Aloha Poke is going strong with plans to open restaurants in LA, Denver, Milwaukee, and other markets within the next six months. Poke is a lifestyle, not a trend, Friedlander maintained.

“I think it’s just the lifecycle of a restaurant,” Friedlander said. “We’ve been very fortunate, we’ve made good decisions — we have such strong growth in front of us.”

The following FireFins are now closed:

  • 10 S. LaSalle
  • 174 N. Franklin
  • 500 W. Madison
  • 1415 N. Milwaukee
  • 802 W. Belmont

FireFin Poké Shop

174 N. Franlin Street, Chicago, IL Visit Website

FireFin Poké Shop

10 S La Salle St, Chicago, IL 60603 (312) 754-0609 Visit Website

FireFin Poke Shop Wicker Park

1415 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL Visit Website

FireFin Poké Shop Lakeview

802 W. Belmont Avenue, Chicago, IL (773) 698-6141 Visit Website