Belmont Shore will double its poke-bowl offerings when Sweetfin moves into its first Long Beach brick-and-mortar this summer.

Though the Hawaiian-inspired, raw fish craze first arrived on Second Street in 2016, when Poke Pola opened, Sweetfin was among the first wave of poke-bowl eateries on the scene in Southern California.

“We’re one of the first, if not the first, dedicated fast-casual poke concepts in the U.S.,” Seth Cohen, co-owner of Sweetfin, told the Business Journal. “Through our success … it really created a huge category that has continued to grow not only in Southern California but in the U.S. and internationally, which is really cool to see.”

Fresh out of college, Cohen and Brett Nestadt opened Sweetfin’s first location in Santa Monica in 2015. Since then, poke shops have been cropping up seemingly everywhere. Sweetfin now has some 17 locations across the Southland.

A bento box and poke bowls are displayed on a table at Sweetfin.
Sweetfin, which opened its first location in 2015, has 17 locations across Southern California that offer vegan bowls, poke burritos and chef-driven raw fish recipes. Photo courtesy of Sweetfin.

“I stumbled across poke on a vacation to Hawaii,” Cohen told the Business Journal. “Both myself and Brett are super into healthy eating and thought that poke could be a really interesting category that hadn’t been developed.”

Belmont Shore’s Poke Pola, beloved for its spice-tiered marinades and massive portions, continues to draw long lines beside the post office. But when the Sweetfin chain opens up on the street within the old Z-Pizza location, it will bring an entirely different set of poke options to the corridor, such as vegan bowls, poke burritos and “health-goal bowls.”

The chain was also among the first to introduce inventive plant-based recipes that offer a refreshing departure from the usual tofu-substitute. Take for example, the miso eggplant and mushroom poke bowl: miso sesame shoyu sauce, Japanese eggplant, shimeji mushrooms, sun-dried tomato and market radish.

As for raw fish, Sweetfin offers a roster of 16 chef-driven bowls such as the gochujang salmon poke bowl (which includes a Korean chili paste) and the mango albacore poke bowl, which Cohen says is his favorite at the moment.

Cohen said he has never intended to mimic traditional Hawaiian poke. Alternatively, the Cohen and Nestadt set out to develop original and health-conscious recipes that would be specific to Sweetfin.

“Someone can come to Sweetfin and have kind of a healthy yet indulgent meal that’s craveable and not feel bad about eating with us,” Cohen said. “Whether they’re gluten free or vegan or pescetarian or keto—whatever diet that they subscribe to—we have something for them.”

For starters, the “brain booster” includes “sustainable” salmon and tofu topped with homemade miso sesame shoyu sauce, avocado, chopped kale, bean sprouts, sun-dried tomatoes and macadamia nuts, which is served over a kelp noodle slaw.

Patrons can also look forward to new creations that come along as Sweetfin routinely partners with well-known chefs that develop their own short-run poke bowls. Recently, Cohen said chef H Woo Lee developed a Thai-inspired poke bowl, which will feature fresh herbs like mint and basil aioli. Cohen said this menu option will no longer be available by the time the Long Beach shop opens, but Long Beachers can look forward to trying more creative spins like this one.

The new shop won’t really be Sweetfin’s first foray in Long Beach. Just before signing the lease on Second Street, Cohen closed its cloud kitchen within Daisy Diner, which had operated in the to-go collective since May of 2021.

Sweetfin doesn’t have an opening date for Long Beach yet, but Cohen says he expects to open at 4612 Second St. within the next two months. The shop will likely be open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.