Food & Drink

Sacramento fish restaurant heads to Bay Area

Fish Face Poke Bar’s home base of 750 square feet at the Warehouse Artist Lofts along the R Street corridor, seen here, is larger than the planned Emeryville location, which will be 500 square feet.
Fish Face Poke Bar’s home base of 750 square feet at the Warehouse Artist Lofts along the R Street corridor, seen here, is larger than the planned Emeryville location, which will be 500 square feet. Carla Meyer

Fish Face Poke Bar, a Hawaiian fish salad eatery on R Street, will soon set up shop in the Bay Area.

Riding on the poke craze that has hit Northern California, owner and chef Billy Ngo signed a lease in August for a spot in the Emeryville Public Market. The market hosts a slew of fast-casual restaurants that must learn to nimbly use the limited kitchen and counter space.

Fish Face Poke Bar is following another Sacramento franchise – 16th Street’s Hot Italian – which also has an offshoot in the Emeryville Public Market.

“I think it will do really well in the Bay Area because of how concentrated the population is out there,” said Ngo, who is also behind Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine.

Ngo’s foray into Emeryville is unusual, because few Sacramento-based restaurants cross into the Bay Area. It is following in the footsteps of another Sacramento franchise – 16th Street’s Hot Italian – which also has an offshoot in the Emeryville Public Market. The competition for restaurant staff members, along with high rents and overhead costs, can be tough on business owners, Ngo said.

The centerpiece of Fish Face is a bar where patrons choose the protein (typically raw fish such as tuna or salmon), sauce and other seasonings, similar to the concept of Chipotle or Pieology. The food is then mixed in front of customers.

At 500 square feet, the Emeryville location will be smaller than the home base of 750 square feet at the Warehouse Artist Lofts along the R Street corridor.

Ngo is counting on the synergy of different cuisines and the dense nearby population to fuel profits. The Emeryville Public Market has communal tables and plenty of seating.

Whether prices will be higher in Emeryville remains to be seen. Prices at the Sacramento location range from $8 to $16 for a batch of poke, depending on the size of the container.

“We have to do way more volume if we were to keep the price the same,” Ngo said.

The Emeryville location is expected to open next spring.

Richard Chang: 916-321-1018, @RichardYChang

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