When 23-year-old Julian Fukue opened PokiNometry in Anaheim last year, it was a culmination of his career as one of OC's youngest sushi chefs and his experience dabbling in selling skateboards. The concept was simple: Fukue and his small crew would specialize in poké, the Hawaiian dish of ahi tuna that was just reaching the cusp of popularity on the mainland. They'd lay out the cubed fish in an assembly line, with the rice at the beginning and the sauces at the end–everything streamlined so the customer could direct the construction of their poké bowl.
The first week went smoothly and reached his projections: 100 bowls sold per day. But by the third and fourth weeks, something unexpected happened: PokiNometry went viral. As word spread, lines formed, and Fukue was selling from 800 to 1,000 bowls per day. The eatery ran out of fish, the dishwashers were swamped, and Fukue didn't have enough employees. It became so hectic he shut the place down for a few weeks to train more people and shore up his resources.
"We had a lot of catching up to do," Fukue says. "We just couldn't keep up with demand."
These days, PokiNometry has not only become the model of efficiency, but also the one to copy, as other poké shops have opened to tap into the previously pent-up demand Fukue uncovered. As his high-school classmates settle into their first jobs or grad school, Fukue has become OC's first and, arguably, youngest poké entrepreneur.
Fukue comes from a restaurant family–his mom, Momoko, bought Tommy's Sushi in Tustin from Tommy himself in the late '80s. "My mom worked as the hostess and did the accounting. My dad was one of the sushi chefs," he says.
When he was 17, Fukue's parents divorced, meaning he had to step up to help his mom with the family business. While his fellow Dana Hills High School grads planned for college, Fukue toiled at the restaurant seven days a week, never taking weekends off. He washed dishes at first, but soon, Fukue moved up to managing the restaurant. Eventually, he went on to making the sushi himself.
One of the dishes Fukue mastered was Tommy's poké bowls, one of the most popular items at the restaurant. At that point, Fukue and the other sushi chefs obliged special requests–substituting one fish for another, adjusting the seasonings–but it took time. It was his customers who suggested he create a process to make such requests easier, which led to PokiNometry. "At Tommy's, how the poké bowl turned out depended on the chef," he says. "Now at PokiNometry, it's more consistent. Every bowl is the same."
PokiNometry is still as busy as ever, and Fukue is opening a second PokiNometry in Hollywood. And he still works weekends. "I don't have much of a personal life," Fukue admits. "I don't eat out a lot. When I do, I'm exploring new foods that aren't Asian. I have a lot to learn from fast food. But I try to stay away from sushi."