Drew Crane tried poké for the first time during a family vacation in Hawaii, and he immediately fell in love with it. “My initial reaction was: why haven’t I heard of this before?” he said.
When I told him that I am one of the uninitiated, he informed me that poké originated many years ago with fishermen mixing leftover scraps of fish with sea salt and seaweed. Over time, it evolved into its current form: sushi-grade fish diced into cubes, tossed with veggies and sauce, and served over a base of rice or salad. He found that the dish was ubiquitous in Hawaii – in restaurants, grocery shops, poké shacks, liquor stores – and an intrinsic part of the food culture there. However, when he returned to New York, to his surprise, he could not find any poké restaurants.
Drew started making poké at home for his friends, who all responded the same way he had: “This is amazing, why haven’t I had or heard of poké before?” That is when he got the idea, he said, of “bringing poké to New York City.” He left his job at Goldman Sachs in March of 2014 to pursue this dream, and in January 2016, he and his partner Bryan Cowan opened Wisefish Poké in Chelsea.
It is a cozy little restaurant, with just one long wooden table for seating, but that does not stop the eager customers queueing up every time I have stopped by, drawn to the irresistible smell of fresh seafood wafting from the doorway.
Drew told me that the enthusiastic response has been a pleasant surprise, given that they do not do any PR or advertising. It is a testament to the quality of the food, which is paramount to Drew. Frozen fish is an absolute no-go at Wisefish Poké. “We are completely transparent about where our tuna comes from. I could tell you who caught it, where they caught it and when.” He considers it essential to pay homage to the Hawaiian tradition of poké, which is made with freshly-caught fish and simple, but high-quality ingredients.
I asked Drew if quitting his finance job to start the restaurant was a hard decision. He responded with an immediate, confident “no.” He explained, “I had a true passion for this, so the decision was easy. I didn’t even spend any time agonizing over it.” Drew shared with me that he has always been entrepreneurial and passionate about food; he spent ten years of his childhood in Hong Kong and was exposed to a lot of different kinds of cuisine while growing up. “It ignited an excitement and curiosity in me for food.” And with Wisefish Poké, Drew is loving the opportunity to share some of that enthusiasm with New York.
First published on Manhattan Sideways (sideways.nyc).