As it turns out, opening a restaurant is a bit more challenging than expected — particularly for two early twentysomethings still in college.
Brandon Cohanim and Francois Reihani, who first met as Beverly Hills High School students, moved to Dallas to attend Southern Methodist University. Cohanim studies advertising; Reihani, business.
After reconnecting, the friends realized their entrepreneurial mindsets and epicurean interests were perfectly suited to start a company. Their cuisine of choice: poke, a type of raw-fish salad that was trending in New York and L.A. but had yet to achieve a presence in Dallas.
“We knew West Village was the perfect spot for us, but they wanted a more detailed business plan,” Reihani says. “They even said, ‘I don’t really know what you’re doing here; we have eight other offers.’ ”
Six of those offers were also poke concepts, but the duo, which then drafted a 25-page business plan, had a selling point: Jimmy Park, former sushi chef at Nobu in Dallas, who joined their team as executive chef. They met him as frequent Nobu patrons.
“He stayed after close to hang out with us and was amazingly interactive with his customers,” Reihani adds. “Jimmy is one of the most passionate chefs, and he now gets to show that in our restaurant.”
Pok The Raw Bar opened earlier this year, adjacent to Taco Diner in West Village. The vibe is very L.A. (“You won’t walk into any other restaurant in Dallas and hear Kanye West playing loud,” Cohanim says), and the menu is 100 percent gluten-free, offering sashimi and signature poke bowls such as spicy ponzu tuna and spicy yuzu salmon, with the option to BYOB (build your own bowl) with a base of bamboo or cauliflower rice, citrus kale, or kelp zucchini slaw.
There are plenty of extras to pile on: avocado, hearts of palm, chili-marinated oranges, cured shiitake mushrooms, et al. Salmon is flown in daily from Scotland, tuna comes from the Pacific Ocean, and albacore is sourced in Japan.
Also from Japan is matcha, the green tea that Pok flies in from a family-owned farm in Uji. High in antioxidants, matcha leaves are grounded into a potent powder that’s blended with almond milk, watermelon juice, or lemonade into drinks that distribute clean energy for up to six hours with no crash, unlike coffee.
“We serve the highest grade ceremonial matcha, which most restaurants don’t use because it’s expensive,” Reihani says. He and Cohanim have mastered the art of preparing the beverages themselves, spending most days when they’re not in school, at the restaurant.
Beyond culinary trends, these dapper young men are also sharp when it comes to fashion. “I like to discover designers who are up-and-coming,” Cohanim says, citing the label Off White and En Noir ripped jeans. Francois is more of a suit guy. “I have like 35 in my closet,” he says. “Hugo Boss or anything Italian.”
Yet they take the most pride in their restaurant’s philanthropic venture, Imagine x Inspire, which helps 18-year-olds transition out of foster care and find housing, work, counseling, and education.
“Our success is not measured by how much money we make, but by how many people we help,” Reihani says.
After a rousing grand opening, Pok continues to generate buzz as the first of its kind in town. Its cofounders are already in the process of securing a second location in Plano.
“It’s important to be yourself,” Cohanim says, “and to take the risk of being different in a market where something doesn’t exist.”
Age: Brandon, 20; Francois, 21. Occupation: Co-founders, Pok The Raw Bar. Tools of the Trade: Business acumen. Sharp threads. Individuality.
Pok The Raw Bar, 3699 McKinney Ave., 214.484.1139.