A new poke bar comes to Davis Square
(Somerville Wire) – Waikiki opened very recently in Davis Square, bringing poke, sushi, and raw juice to the space formerly occupied by the iconic Johnny D’s club. While it will be joining many other seafood options in the area, Waikiki is also particularly known for its flavorful teas and drinks. I connected with owner Wei Zheng about what brings him to the neighborhood and how his new restaurant shines.
What excites you about the restaurant business?
My family have always been in the restaurant business since I was a teenager. In 2012, we sold our family restaurant because my parents wanted to retire, and I needed more time to focus on my online retail business. While working on my online business, I missed working in a restaurant, because most of the communication for the online business is through email, which gets a bit tiresome after a while. I wanted to get back into the restaurant business because I wanted to be able to talk to customers directly, serve them directly, and get feedback from them directly; it feels much more human that way.
What made you decide to open a poke, sushi, and juice restaurant in Davis Square?
While I was looking for a space for a new restaurant, my cousin talked to me about his poke restaurant in Pennsylvania. I loved the concept of creating your own bowl with fresh ingredients and choosing your favorite sauces to go with it, so we decided that our next restaurant is going to be focused on poke bowls. Sushi rolls are also one of my favorite foods. My wife and I often make sushi rolls at home, and since poke bowls and sushi rolls use the same ingredients, it is only natural to add sushi rolls to the concept. My sister loves making all kinds of drinks at home, like fresh-fruit tea, milk tea, smoothie, and juice, so we decided to team up, and she would design all the drinks for the restaurant. We wanted to offer the cuisine that we love ourselves because this way we can put in our personal touch and make this familiar cuisine a bit more unique.
Can you describe some of the most popular foods on your menu and the flavors that come through in them?
Our fresh-fruit tea selections are pretty unique. We use whole-leaf tea only, and since different tea requires different steeping temperature and time, we are very careful with our tea brewing process every day. A small variation in time and temperature will make the tea taste bitter. We don’t want that; we want our tea to taste perfect every day. Although our bubble tea and milk tea might seem similar to others, they are healthier. We use traditional cooked tapioca pearls instead of instant tapioca. They are soft and more chewy. For our milk tea, we offered dairy or non-dairy milk (oat milk, almond milk, and coconut milk). They are all fresh milk, and we don’t use powdered milk because powdered milk contains lots of oxidized cholesterol that is hard to digest … The powdered milk for milk tea also has lots of added sugar in it. Lots of bubble tea places use powdered milk because they are much easier to store and take much less space. Customers can also choose sugar-free sweetener instead of cane sugar for our milk tea and drinks. Our smoothies are all made with fresh fruits and veggies, and they are unsweetened and non-dairy. We haven’t started offering juices yet during our soft opening period, but we will start offering them very soon. Our juices will be cold-pressed juices; they are from a slow juicer, so you get better juice quality, because more nutrients and fibers will be retained during the juicing process.
What do you like about Somerville and the new space you are at, which was formerly Johnny D’s?
We got very lucky finding this great spot that was formerly Johnny D’s, and the owner of Johnny D’s is our landlord now. After talking to her about our concept, she decided to give us a chance. Johnny D’s meant a lot to her, and she wanted this space to be a nice local restaurant. We are very touched that she believed in us. This also made us want to work extra hard to prove to her that she made the right decision, and she will be proud of us. Davis Square is great for our restaurant, and we couldn’t be happier with the location mainly because of the people. Everyone is so supportive and friendly, and they give us great feedback. This feedback will help us improve every day, so we can serve our customers better. Because of the feedback, we will expand our menu and offer more gluten-free selections. We will have a gluten-free version of creating your own poke bowl soon. Also, for our fresh-fruit tea, we will be adding many decaf options, sugar-free options, and no added sugar options. We want to become a truly unique local restaurant that people of Davis Square will be proud of.
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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.