Jon Alexis knows how to run a seafood restaurant. Now he hopes the chops he’s acquired since buying TJ's Seafood Market and Grill helps put a unique stamp on a burgeoning poke market.
Even though he purchased TJ’s from his parents in 2009, opening up Malibu Poke down the street on Oak Lawn — his third brick-and-mortar — wasn’t a by-the-numbers process for his team.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be the first poke place, but we want it to be the best,” he says.
Alexis, 38, owns Malibu Poke with business partners and longtime friends Eric Kusin, 36, and Ben Kusin, 39.
The space is bright white and open, with light coming in through floor-length windows and cool tones of coral, sage and blue. Guests may recognize the floor of the space’s former occupant, Good Eats. The sounds of Christopher Cross, Fleetwood Mac and Genesis serve as the soundtrack to your bowl of protein and vegetables.
“People might ask, ‘Are they really playing Captain and Tennille?’ That was intentional. … We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Alexis says.
But the food is a little more serious, even though they say they use the term poke “very loosely,” taking the Hawaiian dish and experimenting with different preparations.
“We’re almost like a band riffing on poke,” Alexis says.
The Kusin brothers have business backgrounds outside of the restaurant industry. And while Alexis knows the seafood restaurant biz, don’t call him a chef.
“Food fires me up intellectually and emotionally,” he says. “I’m not a chef. I’m a mediocre amateur. I found through the business side, I can be a part of all this.”
But there is an expert in the kitchen: chef Matt McCallister of FT33.
“He does things like it’s fine dining,” Alexis says. “We could’ve done the menu in a day. Matt McCallister is an artist.”
McCallister has also looped them in with the right people for the local vegetables that top these bowls. Sauces are made in-house from recipes McCallister created, and when a customer has a request, the team takes it to McCallister to tackle. Along with offering fish-free takes on poke bowls for vegetarians, Malibu Poke has also created dishes to cater to diners on restrictive diets like Whole30.
The concept includes people ordering from a kiosk, where they can select a bowl on the menu or make their own. Well-lit pictures fill the screen, and items that have been 86ed for the day aren’t even presented to the customer.
By the way, if you have favorite orders, it will remember: The devices feature facial recognition software. If that’s too creepy, it can also remember your orders with the swipe of your payment card.
And if you're wondering if this entire concept is a fad?
“Is poke a fad? Bad poke is,” Alexis says. “There is no fad of good food.”
Malibu Poke, 3888 Oak Lawn Ave.
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