An Evening in Food Entrepreneurship: Aloha Poke Founder and Managing Partner Zach Friedlander
Wieboldt - 540
Wieboldt - 340 E Superior St, Chicago, IL 60611
Co-Founder & Managing Partner
Aloha Poke Co.
Zach Friedlander had a goal to open his own restaurant by the time he turned 30, and he founded Aloha Poké Co mere days after blowing out his thirty candles. His affinity for poké piqued when he tried the Hawaiian dish in Venice Beach, CA, and he unleashed the raw fish bowl phenomenon on Chicago to offer the city’s business districts and residential neighborhoods a healthy, affordable option for lunch and dinner.
The co-founder and operating partner focuses Aloha Poké Co.’s menu on the standard composition with various ways to customize, and keeps quality ingredients and quick, attentive service at the top of his priority list. His dedicated team of employees maintains the fast-casual restaurant’s hospitality mantra, hinging on simplistic preparations and a constant ear to the guest’s needs, while providing streamlined and speedy service. Their calm demeanor behind the busy counter traces back to Friedlander’s laid-back management style. “I don’t mind a mistake here and there,” he says, “as long as we learn from it. I’m a pretty relaxed manager—it’s all about elevating oneself personally and professionally, and striving for autonomy, with the right guidance.”
A fussy eater growing up just north of Chicago in Deerfield, IL, Friedlander’s timid childhood diet made no hint towards his future in restaurants. His father took him out to eat often, however, and Friedlander began to appreciate the nuances of hospitality. He started to enjoy hosting parties and serving others, but ultimately chose to pursue architecture when he enrolled at the University of Kansas. Three years into college, however, Friedlander found the inspiration to drop out and enter the hospitality industry, moving to Chicago and scouring its blocks for work.
He found his start at Can’s Bar and Canteen in Wicker Park thanks to its owner, Josh Bushnick, and later developed the cocktail program for Relax Lounge as head bartender, during which time he also became a finalist in Chicago’s “Sweet 16 of Mixology” tournament. Friedlander then signed on to help launch Hogsalt Hospitality, bartending at Gilt Bar, Maude’s Liquor Bar, and Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf from October 2009 until early 2013, which earned him a spot on Zagat’s “30 Under 30” list in 2012.
Carpel tunnel surgery on his hands threw a wrench into Friedlander’s career plans, but he progressed regardless, launching Barkeep Collective, a restaurant and bar consulting firm focusing on education. Once healed, he continued consulting, but also earned the role of general manager with Graves Hospitality, placing him in charge of The Bedford, Carriage House, and Buck’s, a position that honed his leadership abilities while fueling his aspirations to launch his own concept.
Encouraged by a close friend, Friedlander took the leap and founded Aloha Poké Co. in March 2016, inspired by the relaxed vibe and fresh, raw cuisine of Hawaii’s surfside poké shacks. Within its first year, the brand expanded from its first location in The Loop’s French Market to Lakeview’s dynamic Belmont Street and again into The Loop, at the Revival Food Hall.
Friedlander resides in Chicago’s Wicker Park/West Town area, and when he finds time away from work, he enjoys spontaneously buying a plane ticket to a faraway country and exploring it with no reservations.
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