The Poke Bowl brings fresh, flavorful food options to downtown Flint area

FLINT, Michigan — The Poke Bowl is one of the newest additions to the downtown Flint area and has brought with it fresh food options with a flavorful twist. On Thursday, Aug. 31, the Flint and Genesee Chamber hosted a ribbon-cutting and grand opening ceremony to celebrate the new restaurant located at 1214 University Ave.

"It feels very surreal to see this thing actually come into fruition, said Jeron Dotson, co-owner of The Poke Bowl. "We have seen the fruits of our labor at every step but this is just a huge leap forward toward our dream of franchising."

The eatery was launched by Dotson and his brother and business partner Justin Bush. The two began working on the business more than six years ago but were unable to launch due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The brothers are now excited to share the fresh flavor of Hawaiian and Japanese fusion with their community. The restaurant promises an exceptional dining experience of “fresh raw fish, vibrant veggies, and expert craftsmanship.”

The pair were inspired after a trip to California where they patronized The Poke Shack at Venice Beach. Not long after, Bush and Dotson pitched the idea for Poke Bowl to Flint SOUP, a local competition designed to support local entrepreneurs. Participants and supporters attend a monthly dinner of soup, salad, and bread during which entrepreneurs pitch their idea for a chance to win seed money for their business. 
Justin Bush and Jeron Dotson.
Bush and Dotson went on to win a pitch competition in Fenton. As their profile rose, they earned an opportunity to partner with Habitat for Humanity’s Work-Live Project.

The project began as a collaborative effort between Habitat, MasterCard, University of Michigan-Flint (UM-F), and other partners and provides business owners with business plan development, marketing, and other support from Kettering University and UM-F. Project participants are provided with a workspace as well as a living space to help foster business success. 

"We have learned that there are many manuals on how to do what we’ve done but each situation is unique," said Dotson. "We faced a lot of obstacles on the way here. We learned to push through any and everything. No matter how many no’s we heard, we just kept pushing."

The term poke (pronounced poh-kay) means “to slice” or “to cut crosswise into pieces. The dish’s origins are not entirely known, however, it is believed to have some roots in a meal created by fishermen who seasoned cut-off from their daily catch. It gained mainland popularity in the 1970’s in Hawaii where grocers sold their versions of the meal. Around 2012, mainland Americans began to see poke bowl options pop up along with casual-dining poke restaurants. 

The Poke Bowl’s website boasts an array of signature poke bowls and also features açai bowl options. Traditionally, poke bowls are made with rice and raw fish. Other ingredients can widely range from marinated salmon and shrimp to tofu and freshly chopped vegetables. An array of other toppings and sauces can be added. Menu items at Poke Bowl are all priced under $20.

As a new business in the downtown Flint area, we asked Dotson what advice he would give to aspiring local entrepreneurs, and he replied, "You’re only as strong as your network. Allow yourself to soak in all the information you can and be teachable. Learn not only from those around you but from your own mistakes as well. Don’t take a single "no" for an answer and keep pushing forward."

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Read more articles by Qiana Towns.