San Diego Poke Company
In one year, San Diego Poke Co. has grown from a farmers market favorite to an established eatery featuring a selection of San Diego’s best poke – a traditional Hawaiian dish commonly made with raw ahi tuna and flavored with sea salt, soy sauce, seaweed, sesame oil and other ingredients.
Launched in March 2015 as a vendor at the Scripps Ranch Farmers Market, and shortly thereafter the Hillcrest Farmers Market, San Diego Poke Co. quickly became a fan favorite for island-inspired items like traditional poke bowls, poke tacos and fried Spam balls covered in a crust of crushed Flaming Hot Cheetos.
San Diego Poke Co.’s first brick and mortar location, opening May 2016 at the east end of Mission Valley, will feature a casually designed 900-square foot space with glossy gray concrete floors, bright white walls and black and red accents. Guests order custom-created poke dishes ranging around $10 to $12 and featuring choices in seafood (tuna, spicy tuna, salmon, albacore and more), bases (variations of rice, salad, wraps and more), toppings, and sauces – including a house truffle soy sauce and umami sauce to debut upon opening. San Diego Poke Co. will collaborate within the community to offer seasonally-changing desserts, and fans should keep an eye out for authentic mochi ice cream flown in via overnight shipping from Hawaii.
Across the “mainland,” poke has found itself trending in recent years. Locally, San Diegans can shop various farmers markets and niche neighborhood eateries – yet poke remains more evident in fashion-forward Los Angeles, where restaurants dedicated to the dish have experienced great success. With the opening of San Diego Poke Co., the poke trend continues to migrate down the coastline to join San Diego’s growing dining scene. San Diego Poke Company stands as the First Build Your Own Poke Restaurant in San Diego, and the First in the West Coast to introduce the Poke Burger.
Meet The Staff
Favorite Dish: Salmon Wonton Tacos
Chef Meljohn Sebastian is no stranger to fish. Prior to joining San Diego Poke Co. in 2015, for ten years he trained alongside Executive Sushi Chef Jerry Warner of La Jolla’s esteemed sushi and Asian fusion restaurant Café Japengo. Notably, Chef Meljohn has also worked with Hall of Famer Junior Seau, creating sushi for the former athlete’s events, and has appeared on Japanese television, representing the stateside style of sushi with former teacher Chef Warner.
Meljohn was raised in San Diego and entered the food industry at sixteen. Early jobs included working in the kitchen during the opening of Luna Grill, a popular Persian and Greek Mediterranean eatery, but he entered the world of sushi at the Japanese chain Sansai, where a manager noticed Meljohn’s knack for sushi and quickly moved him from cashier into the kitchen to begin his learning. Within a year Meljohn joined to Café Japengo, where he underwent a decade of intense sushi training.
Today, Meljohn focuses on creating cuisine that tastes and looks incredible. In his role with San Diego Poke Co. he continues to experiment with poke, dreaming up new styles and flavors on a daily basis while in the pursuit of new dishes all can enjoy.
Favorite Dish: Sweet Shoyu Poke and Longanisa Gyoza, a Filipino-Japanese fusion side dish
Born and raised in Torrance, a city within Los Angeles’ South Bay, San Diego Poke Co. owner Yohei Umezu ( “Yo-hay Oo-may-zu”) discovered poke after a childhood of Japanese seafood. Family from Hawaii introduced him to the island-style dish, and he became intent of exploring and sharing poke’s unique fusion of flavors.
From running paper routes at the age of eleven to working as a waiter and in customer service positions, Yohei’s early years instilled in him a hard work ethic and the desire to get more from life. He always enjoyed cooking, dabbling with new recipes and testing new ingredients, but for many years he did not realize he was talented enough to make his recipes for others. Once he began feeding his friends, he recognized that people enjoyed his dishes and he became drawn to the joy of creating something others could appreciate.
While Los Angeles has received several poke restaurants in recent years, Yohei noticed San Diego was lacking this cuisine. He launched San Diego Poke Co. in March 2015, first to meet the farmers market business model and test San Diegans’ response to his and Chef Meljohn’s recipes; upon amassing an impressive following, he laid plans to open the Mission Valley location.
San Diego Poke Co. is Yohei’s first and only business. Future goals include being a positive contributor to the community and bringing guests happiness through poke via future additional locations. Yohei believes that “business is like a man rowing a boat upstream. He has no choice; he must go ahead or he will go back.” (-Lewis E. Pierson)
Yohei spends most of his time in San Diego, though he visits Los Angeles regularly to see family and explore its food scene. He volunteers at his local shelter and church to help feed those in need, and is developing plans to work with organizations that support active and retired military personnel.