Two engineers embark on entrepreneurial dream with poke restaurant


Two engineers are about to step into the foodie world with a Chipotle-style, Hawaiian poke restaurant in the heart of Over-the-Rhine.

Sally Lin, who works at P&G, and her fiancé and GE employee Baret Kilbacak, chose OTR as the location for Poke Hut because of the diversity in the neighborhood and a lack of fast-paced restaurant options for busy young professionals.

“We're trying to break the mold; we're trying to offer something that fits people's lifestyle,” Kilbacak says.

Poke is a traditional Hawaiian dish that consists of raw, cubed pieces of fish. It is usually served in a bowl with rice and veggies.

Poke Hut will serve poke with sushi rice and a variety of toppings and sauces. The menu will also feature cooked meat dishes. The restaurant will have a beach-theme mixed with a little bit of Cincinnati. There will be bubble tea, a bar (with alcoholic bubble tea), poke burritos and steamed buns for those seeking a healthy late-night snack.

The couple are first-generation immigrants — Lin’s family is from China and Kilbacak’s Armenian family is from Turkey.

“We grew up seeing our families in small businesses, which is typical of immigrants, and I think we kind of miss that,” Lin says.

The idea for a poke spot started when Kilbacak went on an impromptu trip to Hawaii with his brother and a close friend. After a long day of surfing, the group stumbled upon a poke shop in search of a quick bite.

“We went to a shop, and within just a few minutes we had a bowl in our hands and we went to the beach,” he says. “The lifeguards were off duty and there was a lifeguard shack. We went right up there, threw our feet over the edge and watched the tide roll in and ate our food.”

After a year of planning, Poke Hut anticipates a soft opening in October or early November.

Although owning and operating a small business is something the couple has wanted to do for a long time, they don't plan to quit their day jobs. Instead, a third partner will oversee the restaurant's day-to-day operations.

Poke Hut will be located across from Taft's Ale House in the Allison Building at 1509 Race St.
 

Read more articles by Natalya Daoud.

Natalya Daoud is a freelance journalist who has been writing professionally since 2014. She's a Cincinnati native and has a B.A. in journalism from the University of Cincinnati. She loves music and is a huge Bengals fan.
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