By Kevin Collison
The Delaware storefront scene in the River Market continues to blossom, the latest addition being Freestyle Poke, a Hawaiian comfort food place that plans to open in June.
Poke (pronounced POH-keh) is big in its native Hawaii and even bigger in Southern California, and Jeremiah Dupin, a Kansas City native, is bringing it here…via Dubai.
How it’s arriving at 509 Delaware St. is a great odyssey when explained by Dupin’s colleague at Freestyle Poke, chef Kealan O’Boyle.
After attending college in Florida and New York City, and then serving six years in the military all over the world, Dupin found himself in Bali, the Indonesian island paradise.
“He was in at a place in his life where he didn’t know what he wanted to do,” O’Boyle said. “He saw a poke restaurant in Bali and later in California and thought it was a brilliant concept.
“Six months later, he opened the first poke restaurant in Dubai. He started with eight employees and within a year had 36.
“It was the number one food provider for Uber Eats in Dubai.”
Dupin decided to sell his Dubai poke restaurant and bring the concept to KC. He connected with O’Boyle, the former chef at the Massachusetts Street Fish House and Raw Bar in Lawrence, while seeking advice on Facebook about sourcing good food.
O’Boyle, a Lenexa native, was trained at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont and worked at restaurants all over the U.S. for eight years before coming to Lawrence. The pair proved to be kindred spirits when it came to food.
“The plan is to create a chain,” O’Boyle said. “We want to open five- to eight restaurants in the Kansas City area over the next two years and hope to expand throughout the Midwest.”
Poke means “chunk” in Hawaiian and it applies to the chunks of raw fish with vegetables served in bowls over rice, quinoa, green, vegetable noodles or “forbidden rice,” a black Chinese rice that’s “really healthy for you,” O’Boyle said.
Freestyle Poke will serve chunks of raw tuna and salmon, but will cater to Midwest tastes by also offering free-range, hormone-free chicken, cooked salmon and tofu. Monthly specials also will include squid, octopus and seasoned fish. Entrees will range from $9.95 to $13.50.
Beverages include wine and local beers, plus kombucha, a fermented tea, on tap, a variety of healthy beverages and sake. Hours are anticipated to be 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
Plans call for part of the front facade of 509 Delaware to be opened to a small sidewalk seating area that will extend around the corner of the building and use part of the north parking lot as a patio. The contractor is Gerena Construction.
O’Boyle added the restaurant wants to connect to the River Market community as “poke with a purpose.”
“The proceeds from our soft opening will go to charity, and every month we want to pair with a fitness or yoga institution,” he said. “Jeremiah is big into meditation and mindfulness and we’ll be open to community courses.”
Freestyle Poke is renting its space from Craig Slawson, the Denver developer who recently purchased many of the marvelous late 19th Century buildings along Delaware between Third and Fifth streets.
Slawson wants to enliven the street with sidewalk cafes and other pedestrian-friendly retail.
They join Quay Coffee, 412 Delaware; The Farmhouse, 300 Delaware and Il Lazzarone Pizza, 412 Delaware, to create a burgeoning storefront scene on the scenic, historic street.
“I love the area, it has an awesome sense of community,” O’Boyle said. “The plan Craig has fits our our brand and what we’re trying to do. We’re excited to be part of the Delaware food scene.”
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