City to play host to latest food trend: poké

Jimmy Liang, owner of Big Fin Poké in Westbrook, holds a sign that has been displayed in the window along Main Street during construction. The restaurant will be the first in Maine to focus on poké, a Hawaiian food trend that is growing in popularity.  

A few years ago, Scarborough resident Jimmy Liang and his wife stumbled upon an interesting new Hawaiian food trend called poké, which, described simply, is deconstructed sushi.

Liang, 40, who had taken a brief break from the restaurant industry, made a trip to Los Angeles, where the trend had already exploded, to sample a few restaurants, and returned rejuvinated by the experience. As poké has spread to the east coast, he and his wife planned their own venture in Greater Portland.

Big Fin Poké, set to open at 855 Main St. in Westbrook sometime in early December, will feature quick, casual counter service designed for healthy and customizable meals. Think Chipotle’s burrito bowls but with fresh sushi ingredients.

At the space Monday, which is undergoing substantial interior construction, Liang described the options as fresh fish or tofu with vegetables served over rice or  greens, and a number of sauce choices.

In Hawaiian, poké means “to cut or slice into pieces.”

Liang grew up in restaurants. His parents opened Imperial China in South Portland, and later, he his wife and her siblings operated Chia Sen restaurant in Scarborough. He said he took a break from the industry, going into real estate, but has now returned.

He said a lot of people in Greater Portland have welcomed diversity in food choices as the restaurant industry has boomed, and he’s hoping that same enthusiasm will be shown for poké.

According to Liang, while a few Portland restaurants have poké on the menu, Big Fin will be the first to focus entirely on the style.

Liang said he searched for available commercial space in Portland, but that prices and a longer timeframe toward opening caused him to look elsewhere.

In Westbrook, 855 Main St. is the former home of the Dancing Elephant, which served Indian cuisine. While the space has been vacant for about a year, Westbrook has seen an influx of new restaurants along the Main Street corridor, including Westbrook House of Pizza, Brea Lu Cafe, and a planned new Vietnamese restaurant called Bamboo Bistro on Cumberland Street.

Abigail Cioffi, the coordinator of the Downtown Westbrook Coalition, said Tuesday that the organization is “very excited about the influx of new restaurants.”

She said one of the coalition’s strategies is making Westbrook a creative haven that celebrates a diverse base of businesses, including restaurants.

“It adds to the vitality of the downtown by giving people more reasons to come to Westbrook, or stay in town if they live here,” she said. “We have an incredibly diverse selection of restaurants, and this adds to that diversity.”

“There is a lot of activity,” Liang said of Westbrook, adding that the recent downtown construction and improvements also caught his attention. “It made this part of Westbrook a lot more appealing.”

Over the next month, the business will rehab the interior to include a new counter space, handicapped-accessible bathrooms and plenty of seating facing Main Street, looking through its large glass windows.

“We think it’s going to be a great addition to the area,” Liang said.

Jimmy Liang, owner of Big Fin Poké in Westbrook, holds a sign that has been displayed in the window along Main Street during construction. The restaurant will be the first in Maine to focus on poké, a Hawaiian food trend that is growing in popularity.