There is a pretty obvious way to become a neighborhood institution – be around when it starts to develop and grow.
That’s the plan for siblings and co-owners Justin Bush and Jeron Dotson and their future restaurant Poke (pronounced Pahkee) Bowl.
Poke is a combination of Japanese (usually sushi) and Hawaiian food served in a bowl with an average price tag of $8.00.
The new eatery is part of ongoing efforts to add businesses and housing along the University Avenue Corridor. The groundbreaking of the new development at 1214 University Avenue is on April 25 and will bring affordable housing and new business to the area.
Poke Bowl is one of them and will rent space at this valuable real estate near Kettering University and McLaren Hospital. Construction will between October and December according to the plan, says Bush.
The development is the brainchild of Genesee County Habitat for Humanity, which initiated the project, with assistance from Kettering University, which will include the food in their meal plan, he says.
It’s a good location. The new residents, Kettering staff and students, doctors and current neighborhood residents are potential customers.
“(It’s) a good way to bring different tastes to that side of town,” says Bush.
He and Dotson got the idea for the restaurant while in L.A. shooting a music video for another one of their ventures, a record label called Black Gold. On their last day there they realized they hadn’t had any seafood, which is popular in California. When they decided to fix that lapse they stumbled onto a Poke restaurant.
This type of place has a healthy menu, quick orders to go, and seems to be growing in popularity across the country, just not in Michigan.
The two Flint natives wanted to bring this kind of restaurant to their city and set out to make their idea a reality.
Bush had a history of working in restaurants as a cook and manager. He also prepared food at a hospital, where he became well-versed in bringing out flavor without salt and other unhealthy ingredients. That is an important skill since the goal is to make the Poke Bowl a healthy alternative to fast food restaurants. Bush also often had to prepare meals for people dealing with heart disease or similar problems.
Those healthy meals are important. Bush says a former military doctor, who was visiting a patient, told him he had opened up young service men who already had signs of heart disease.
Another plus was that he knew the need in the University Avenue Corridor neighborhood.
Given Bush’s experience, and with Dotson handling the business side, the plan was at least possible.
To get the funds to help launch the Poke Bowl, the duo started taking part in local competitions similar to the television show “Shark Tank” where contestants pitch their business ideas. They participated in four and did well each time. Even if they didn’t win the main prize, they would still get a more specialized acknowledgement.
Finally, they took part in the Flint SOUP competition in 2017 and won the spot on University Avenue.
To get the word out until the restaurant opens, Poke Bowl will operate as a pop-up and have a few temporary locations throughout the spring and summer, which will be announced on its Facebook page.
Once the eatery is completed they plan to bring in more people by using their recording business to have performances in the parking lot.
Bush and Dotson have taken their experiences and drive and channeled them into a spot in a quickly evolving part of Flint — the University Avenue Corridor.
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