After a trip to the Hawaiian islands, Brett Nestadt and Seth Cohen decided to bring Hawaiian poke to the shores of California in 2013. (Sweetfin/Submitted)

Poke and plant-based lovers have a new spot in Pasadena to savor their favorite dish as Los Angeles-based Sweetfin has opened at the Kitchen United MIX in Pasadena. This is the company’s 16th location throughout Southern California.

“Online ordering plus delivery became more dominant and we had been talking to Kitchen United for a while,” said co-founder Brett Nestadt. “It’s still the same exact quality of food and they’ve been a great partner for us to get into the (Pasadena) market.”  

Sweetfin was founded in 2013 by Nestadt and his college fraternity friend, Seth Cohen. After graduation, Cohen and Nestadt felt that poke, a Hawaiian food heavily influenced by the Japanese cuisine, was becoming an emerging trend in the food market. 

“I had tried poke in Hawaii and restaurants that served sushi, but it can be an inaccessible product because of the price and is seen as a high-end experience,” Nestadt said. “There is more of a culinary flavor to our product, and we felt that we could bring accessibility and affordability for that type of cuisine.”

Together with the business expertise of co-founder Alan Nathan and Top Chef contestant and executive chef Dakota Weiss, the first Sweetfin location opened in Santa Monica in 2015.

“It was a great turn out and we had to shut down at 2 p.m. because we ran out of product,” Nestadt said. “We even had a sign out front that said, ‘Gone Fishin’.”

Sweetfin’s ‘Pole to Bowl’ products are gluten-free and offer sustainable fish, including yellowfin tuna, Scottish salmon, albacore tuna and shrimp along with tofu and vegetables as the main proteins. For the base, customers can choose from bamboo rice, black rice, cauliflower rice, citrus kale salad and kelp noddle slaw along with six different sauces. 

“We want customers to feel like they’re getting a high-quality product at a good price point and a good sense where the ingredients are coming from,” Nestadt said.  

For those who have never tried poke before, Nestadt recommends the “Spicy Tuna Signature Bowl.” The “Build Your Own Bowl” is also popular with customers having the option to combine their choice of base, protein and sauce.

“(The Spicy Tuna Bowl) sounds familiar to people and has a great combination of flavors,” Nestadt said. “The more they start to order, the more they will customize their own bowls.” 

Nestadt said what makes Sweetfin unique from other poke restaurants is that him and his partners were the pioneers.

“After we launched in 2015, there were a lot of competitors and copycats,” Nestadt said. “Our products are made in house, and it is chef driven versus allowing people to pick random ingredients.” 

Core values of creativity and being a good neighbor are also a huge part of the company’s success. Sweetfin partners with local businesses and charities along with donating and catering to schools. 

“We encourage our managers to get to know as many people in the community as possible and be a helping hand,” Nestadt said. “A large part of our brand is a place where people can be proud of eating and working at.” 

Nestadt said the long-term goal for Sweetfin is to stay true to its brand values and to pick future locations wisely. 

“If we expand too quickly, we won’t be able to produce the same service or quality of food,” Nestadt said. “We keep expanding in California and San Francisco is next. Eventually, we’ll take the product outside of California.” 

Sweetfin Pasadena

WHERE: Kitchen United MIX, 55 S. Madison Avenue, Pasadena

HOURS: Monday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

COST: $3.95 to $14.70

INFO: sweetfin.com