New cuisine pops up in Decatur
October 29, 2017
After a difficult goodbye to the long-loved Yogurt Tap, Decatur braced for impact of a new food: poké. In late April, Poké Perfect emerged as the first fast casual dining restaurant in Decatur to serve the Hawaiian inspired dish.
While students rush to Chick-fil-A everyday to get french fries, chicken nuggets and lemonade, a new trend may be about to take the throne.
Step aside grease traps. Fast, fresh food is the new, big trend.
When Chipotle opened in Decatur in November of 2013, it quickly grew in popularity. The chain started in Southern California and spread across the country and, soon after, the world.
This style of restaurant, called fast-casual dining, is the most profitable in the restaurant industry, according to Poké Perfect owner, Hunter Satterwhite.
While the restaurant business is “the biggest risk of of any business you could take,” Satterwhite has found success by observing and monitoring the trends across the country.
After living in Los Angeles for 10 years, Satterwhite observed how foods like pho, a Vietnamese soup and poké followed the same trend.
“Fast-casual dining has been and is the fastest growing type of restaurant,” Satterwhite said. “It’s still as good, if not better, quality, so it is really popular. It all starts in Southern California. It gets to be a little trend there and before you know it, 20 of them open there and it’s like wildfire.”
On numerous visits to Hawaii, Satterwhite encountered poké, a food that he found to be fresh, unique and simple.
It was also profitable.
As poké spread through the United States, Satterwhite set his sights on Europe, a market unexposed to poké.
Friends and family ultimately led Satterwhite to Amsterdam, a heavily populated and compact city in the Netherlands.
According to Satterwhite, cars are not a popular mode of transportation in Amsterdam, allowing for heavy foot traffic and plenty of hungry mouths awaiting a quick, healthy meal.
Decatur however, is seemingly uninterested.
“Here, it has kinda struggled a little bit,” Satterwhite said. “This is a little hole and it’s quiet and people are still trying to figure [poké] out.”
Satterwhite acknowledges the success of restaurants in Downtown, the heart of Atlanta, but he knew it wasn’t for him.
“Downtown is great for lunch, but around 5 o’clock they roll the carpets up, put the bars on the windows, and it’s a ghost town,” he said. “I was like, ‘No, I want to be open all day and night,’ and this just seems like a great spot. There are so many cool little vibe spots around here, and I thought we would fit in.”
Business is on the slower side right now, but Satterwhite is optimistic that with hard work, “next year there will be a line out of the door.”
By having fresh ingredients, specializing only in poké and staying authentic to Hawaiian poké, Satterwhite feels that his food can appeal to a large demographic, high school students included.
“People try to do too much,” he said. “People try to do juice and poké. Sushi places have added poké to their menus. Many places don’t even have poké in their name. I wanted something that says poké; this is what we specialize in. This is what you get, and it will be good.”
Poké Perfect employees are trained to use the freshest foods from the best quality meat and vegetable suppliers at all times, so wasting food is discouraged.
“I’d rather not have it than sell something that’s not up to my standards, and I have very high standards,” Satterwhite said.
These standards result in a dish that is healthy, simple and fast, appealing to the Decatur demographic.
“Once we do capture people out of curiosity, they like it and they come back,” Satterwhite said.
Long time Yogurt Tap enthusiast and Decatur High School student Katie Meyer was not so thrilled at first, but she later discovered a very encouraging surprise.
“I miss Yogurt Tap so much. I got the almond butter frozen yogurt there, and it was vegan,” Meyer said. “But it’s cool that the thing that replaced [Yogurt Tap] also has vegan options. That is so awesome for me to see.”
“They found a nice way to transform the space into a restaurant, and I really like the vibe there,” Meyer said. “Yogurt tap seemed pretty small, but there is actually a lot of space.”
While Yogurt Tap was a Decatur-grown business, Meyer can see how exposure to fresh and diverse foods can be beneficial to the community.
“The cuisine is really unique to Decatur,” she said. “We have places like Noodle and Chipotle, but this is both fast and incredibly fresh. None of the ingredients were old or bad.”
Meyer is excited for the ways in which Poké Perfect is transforming poké.
“I really want to try their tacos because I’m honestly wondering how it works,” she said. “It seems interesting but cool.”
Poké Perfect recently introduced poké tacos and include a variety of innovative options like “sushirittos,” on their menu.
Satterwhite hopes to appeal to a wide variety of different palates by having tuna, salmon, shrimp, crab and lobster. He even encourages those who don’t enjoy seafood to try the roasted chicken, tofu or vegetable poké bowls.
Still, Satterwhite is focused on simplicity and with the hopes that it will attract more and more customers in the long run.
“I don’t want to reinvent the will of [poké],” he said. “I want somebody to walk in here from Hawaii and be very happy with what they see. I want them to see the taco and think that it is acceptable because we’re not trying too hard. Our product and our quality speaks for itself, and that’s it.”
Three months after the grand opening of Poké Perfect, a possible competitor, with the name of Juicy Drop, arrived on Thursday, Aug. 10.
At first glance, one would not assume that the green leafed exterior of Juicy Drop could contain anything other than juice.
Customers however, will be surprised by what lies waiting for them inside.
Originally from Korea, the owner Tae Woo Kim (TK) lived in Boston. There, he saw how juice and salad bars have taken off in California and across the country.
The common issue that he encountered though, is that these juices weren’t very appetizing.
“I’ve gone to some juice bars around the country and tasted [the juice] and it was not good,” TK said. “When I asked about it, they say, ‘Oh, well this is the healthy one.’ We believe that healthy food can be delicious. That’s why I go to the farmer’s market to find the best produce.”
TK often frequents the Dekalb Farmer’s Market to get produce for his new batch of juices each morning.
“Every morning I go get the fruit and vegetables, and I come here and press the juice,” he said. “I like to do the green juices first thing in the morning. I never make the juice in the afternoon because once I make it in the afternoon, I have to sell it tomorrow, and tomorrow it will not taste as fresh for the customers.”
With easy access to the farmers’ market and a demographic open to organic and fresh foods, TK knew that Decatur was the place for him.
“I didn’t want to be anywhere like a mall,” he said. “When people come in, it is mostly random and out of curiosity, and that is better. Here is like in Boston, people just walk in and they love to eat here, but also, a lot of people don’t really know about our salads and poké because our name is Juicy Drop. They think that it is just a juice bar.”
The name TK chose for his restaurant actually covers many aspects of the restaurant.
“The name Juicy Drop not only refers to the juice that we sell but the salad and poké dressings, the smoothies and the fact that we press all of our juices. The juice is dropped and that is what is special.”
Along with some friends of his in South Korea, TK partnered with a company called Good Nature Cold Press. TK uses the CT7, the safest, most compact efficient cold press in the line. It’s range of capabilities allow TK to add juice to a number of items on his menu.
“Other places like Smoothie King try to put in whatever to make it full,” TK said. “They have frozen fruit which has no taste and they put in the powder so the taste of their smoothies is always the same. My smoothies are called ‘smoothie juice.’ That means we minimize the ice, and we don’t put any magic powder or frozen fruit.”
The health of his customers and the quality of his food is the most important aspect of his restaurant.
“This is a really hard job because everything sold has to be fresh,” TK said. “If a vegetable is not fresh, or an apple, pineapple or orange is not sweet, it’s not delicious actually. It is hard but I really love to do this work. My family is going to be healthy and my customers are going to be healthy.”
While poké was not in his original plan and is not his main focus, TK was inspired by the success of restaurants like Chipotle.
“The reason why Chipotle is a big success is that they show something to the customers,” he said. “The customers get to see how the bowls are made right in front of them. I wanted to do that too.”
With everything laid out in front of them, customers build their own poké bowls and can choose up to two types of protein, endless veggies and toppings and combinations of homemade poké dressing to add onto their Juicy Drop rice.
After eating Poké Perfect, Will Whatley decided to try Juicy Drop to see if the poké there met his expectations.
“When I first walked in, I thought that the vibe at Juicy Drop was amazing,” Whatley said. “It’s so chic, and it literally looks like an Apple Store. They have all of these cool plants and smooth jazz and seats that you can just sit in and chill.”
Whatley found that poké bowls at Juicy Drop had their own style.
“Juicy Drop seasons their sushi rice which was not something I expected,” he said. “Sushi rice is usually really plain but I really liked it because it had more flavor.”
With endless meat, toppings and dressings, Whatley found that he got his money’s worth.
“At Juicy Drop, the meats that you can put in your bowl are all the same price which is pretty cool,” Whatley said. “There is no limit on what meat you can get because of price. When I was ordering, [TK] was really helpful and walked me through everything. When he started adding shrimp to my bowl, he was like ‘Do you want more?’ and I was so surprised that I just responded ‘What?’ and he was like ‘Do you want more?’ and I was in awe and I just said ‘Hell yeah.’ There was shrimp in every bite.”
With so many options, Whatley was only able to try the poké bowl but is excited to try other menu items.
“The fact that they do cold pressed juices and açaí bowls is awesome,” he said. “I really want to try some of the juices and smoothies, and the açaí bowls. Everything is all so fresh, it’s incredible.”
TK hopes to give his customers a wide range of choices, fit for any time of the day.
“At Poké Perfect, they only really focus on the poké,” he said. “I believe that it is really dangerous to sell just one thing. My customers will get something different. A lot of people come here and will get the açaí bowl, smoothie or my juice. We have a good combination with the juice and poké because it is great for health.”
Outside of the restaurant, TK intends to connect customers to local farmers so that they know where the produce in their food is coming from.
He aspires to instill pride in local farmers and introduce customers to fresh food producers in their community.
“Once my sales go up, I’m going to start getting more produce from local farmers,” TK said. “We want to make a board with pictures of farmers and tell their story to show the customers where they got their food from. It will be a big chalk board saying ‘today’s spinach is from…wherever.’ But every day it will change.”
What are the different options at these restaurants?