Sweetfin Poké opened its fourth location Tuesday on Westwood Boulevard and Lindbrook Drive.
Sweetfin Poké offers predesigned bowls or allows customers to select their own base, fish, sauce and toppings. Bowls start at $7.95 for vegetarian options and $8.95 for fish, with premium toppings available for extra. It is the second fast-casual poke restaurant in Westwood Village after Poké Bar, which opened across the street from Sweetfin in March.
Poke is a traditional Hawaiian dish combining marinated raw fish with toppings such as green onions, sesame seeds and wasabi.
Unlike traditional poke, Sweetfin does not marinate its fish and features a wide range of California produce, some of which is nontraditional for the cuisine, said Seth Cohen, one of Sweetfin Poké’s founders.
Cohen said the restaurant chose to open a location in Westwood because it has a mix of students, residents and office workers.
The restaurant was originally scheduled to open last summer, but was delayed because the process of getting permits and renovating the interior took longer than expected, he added.
The location was originally part of 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria and the storefront had to be reconstructed to remove a pizza oven, Cohen said. Sweetfin also redesigned the space with ceramic tiles, wood and glass accents and a light installation.
Steve Valdez, Sweetfin’s Westwood manager, said the restaurant’s opening was also delayed because they had not hired enough people in the fall.
He added the restaurant’s fish is all wild-caught except for the salmon, which is sustainably farmed.
Steve Sann, chairman of the Westwood Community Council, helped Sweetfin Poké acquire its lease and said he thinks this restaurant is the type of brand Westwood needs.
“This is a destination spot,” he said. “Now people will come to Westwood because we have Sweetfin, just like they did for 800 Degrees and KazuNori.”
Jim Brooks, president of Topa Management, which owns the property Sweetfin Poké is leasing, said he thinks the restaurant has a good following and that poke is not an overdone concept in Westwood.
Cohen said he thinks Sweetfin distinguishes itself from other poke options because it is more gourmet and environmentally conscious, offering vegan and vegetarian options. It also sources its protein sustainably and uses biodegradable packaging.
Other locations also design a bowl using local produce to support local farmers and let chefs express their creativity, he said. The Westwood location will eventually do the same, he added.
“We have an executive chef in every store, and we skew a lot healthier than other poke places,” Cohen said. “I would call it fine-fast-casual. It’s run a lot like a restaurant.”
Cohen added he thinks many other poke places operate with an assembly line process that doesn’t give customers the same experience.
He said he thinks Poké Bar opening first helps Sweetfin Poké’s business because customers are already familiar with the cuisine.
Alec McPheters, a construction worker who works at a residential development on Wilshire Boulevard, said he frequents the Sweetfin Poké location in Santa Monica, as well as Poké Bar in Westwood.
“It’s usually way more expensive at Sweetfin,” he said. “You get much more value out of Poké Bar.”
McPheters said he sometimes drives to Westwood on the weekends to eat at Poké Bar even though there is a Sweetfin Poké closer to where he lives. He added he thinks the two restaurants are equal in quality.