It all started with a vacation to Hawaii. When Kristen and Ryan Hollingsworth visited there in January 2017, they followed the advice of food celebrity Guy Fieri and stopped into Fresh Catch, a no-frills joint serving poke by the pound. And they were hooked.
Pronounced po-KAY, the dish consisting of marinated raw fish—usually tuna or salmon—has been consumed in Hawaii for hundreds of years. Poke is found in supermarkets and convenience stores throughout the islands, and every local has their favorite spot.
It was a revelation to the Hollingsworths, however, who had consumed their share of sushi but had never encountered poke before. “We tried it everywhere we could” during their two-week stay, Kristen recalls. “It was embarrassing how much we ate.”
Before they’d even left Oahu, the pair was already plotting how to bring the delicacy back home to the North Shore with them. “I was on Pinterest saying, ‘This is what our restaurant should look like,’” Kristen says.
Less than a year later, in January 2018, they opened the first location of Lolo Poke in Beverly. And at press time, they were preparing to open a second location in Newburyport. Both are primarily takeout. The tiny Beverly spot has a just few stools for seating, while the Newburyport location is larger, with more seating.
Lolo means “crazy” in Hawaiian, and was chosen as an acknowledgement of the challenge they were embracing. “Family and friends—everyone said we were nuts,” recalls Kristen. After all, neither had any restaurant or cooking experience beyond waiting tables. Kristen is a successful entrepreneur with a personal care business in Danvers, Ryan works full-time for General Electric Co., and they have two small children. “It was a leap of faith,” Kristen says. But as crazy as it seemed, it was also kismet. Unbeknownst to the couple, the poke craze had taken hold in major metropolitan areas in the past couple years, and it is slowly making its way north.
A poke bowl can accommodate a wide variety of diet restrictions, from Whole 30 to gluten-free, while satisfying a craving for something that is both fresh and healthy. Bowls at Lolo Poke start with a protein—raw fish, chicken, tofu, or even Spam (the canned meat product is still popular in Hawaii). Customers can either purchase one of the signature bowls (the Awa Bowl, a blend of marinated ahi or salmon, crab salad, and various toppings, is a favorite) or craft their own, adding rice or greens, fresh vegetables, and crunchy toppings like panko bread crumbs or wasabi peas. Basic bowls start at $10.95. In addition to bowls, they also offer a “sushi donut,” which is a fist-sized mound of rice topped with raw fish and sauces, and a “musubi,” a block of sushi rice that is often topped with Spam and wrapped in seaweed. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
The Hollingsworths spent a lot of time perfecting their range of sauces, which are all crafted in-house. The spicy mayo is a fan favorite, but purists may prefer the soy sauce–based Lolo Umami. “We ate so much when we were over there, we tried to bring the flavors that impressed us the most here,” Ryan says. So far, customers are embracing the concept wholeheartedly, and a day doesn’t go by without folks asking about the forthcoming Newburyport location.
“People are very excited, and also very welcoming,” Ryan says. So excited that a third location is probably in the cards. “I’ve always wanted three,” Kristen adds. So keep your eyes peeled—people are crazy for poke.
503 Rantoul St., Beverly and 47 Pleasant St., Newburyport, 978-969-0166, lolopokebeverly.com