Pokemoto arrival highlights Stamford’s appeal to new restaurants
STAMFORD — Since they opened their first restaurant two and a half years ago in New Haven, the co-founders of Pokemoto have aspired to establish a presence in the state’s most southwestern city. That opportunity has finally arrived.
The debut late last month, at 229 Main St., of the purveyor of Hawaiian-style diced raw fish highlights downtown Stamford’s perennial ability to attract restaurants — especially small- and mid-sized restaurant groups that are looking to grow.
“We were very interested in Stamford,” Pokemoto co-founder Gladys Longwa said in an interview at the Stamford restaurant. “We were looking for a good space. Once we had an opportunity to get into this location, we jumped at it.”
Pokemoto moved into an approximately 1,400-square-foot space, facing Columbus Park, that comprised part of the former Bobby Valentine’s Sports Gallery Café.
Since 2017, Pokemoto has also opened locations in Norwalk, Fairfield, Hamden, Middletown and West Hartford, as well as North Attleborough, Mass., and Norcross, Ga.
Its name alludes to its eclectic culinary influences, which include sauces and toppings from Japan and South Korea. The moniker combines the Hawaiian “poke” and “moto,” a Japanese word that translates to “original.”
Longwa and co-founder Thomas Nguyen attribute the rapid expansion of their “sushi-in-a-bowl” concept to patrons’ desire for healthy fare that they can order quickly.
“It’s an up and coming city,” Nguyen said. “It’s a great location, with lots of offices and UConn-Stamford. There’s a good energy here.”
Next-door neighbor Kouzina, a Greek restaurant, opened last May. It took over the other 2,500 square feet that Bobby V’s had vacated when it relocated to 268 Atlantic St., in 2017.
The Kouzina owners also run Italian restaurant Tomato Tomato, a nearly eight-year staple at 401 Shippan Ave., a couple of miles east of Kouzina.
“We are thrilled with the response and the success of Kouzina in the nine short months we’ve been open,” said Kouzina co-owner Peter Valis. “It is performing as well as, if not even a little better, than expected.”
Other Connecticut-based chains that have opened locations in the past few years in the downtown include Blackstones steakhouse, at 101 Broad St.; noodle bar Mecha, at 151 Bedford St.; and Peruvian restaurant Fiesta on Main, at 249 Main St.
Blackstones also has locations in Fairfield, Greenwich and Norwalk. Mecha also operates in Norwalk, Fairfield and New Haven.
The Stamford Fiesta joined a Fiesta Limena in Norwalk and was followed, a year later, by the opening of a Fiesta Express in Norwalk. The same family who owns the Fiestas also owns another Peruvian establishment, Viva, at 323 Shippan Ave., in Stamford.
“Fiesta on Main has done really well,” said Fiesta co-owner Victor Mathieu. “We’ve made a lot of adjustments to make sure we can provide the best experience for customers coming in and cater to what people really enjoy.”
Other newcomers are planning to join the dining scene in the downtown, which has entered the second week of its annual Winter Restaurant Weeks showcase.
In the front windows of 84 W. Park Place, signs with a colorful array of dishes advertise the “coming soon” of Noches de Colombia. On the other side of the park, a banner hanging over the entrance of 261 Main St. heralds the upcoming launch of a Cajun seafood restaurant.
A few blocks away, a sign for another poke establishment, Poke Bowl, is posted in the front window of 108 Bedford St.
“I am from the school that welcomes more restaurants, bars and hospitality-types of businesses to the area. The more, the merrier,” Valis said. “I trust that the opening of Pokemoto will attract more people to the area, create more walking traffic and a general buzz for Columbus Park. So far, it looks like they are doing well and the place looks great.”
Success in Stamford has instilled confidence in restaurateurs to keep expanding.
Pokemoto is planning to open locations in Glastonbury and Manchester, as well as in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. All of its Fairfield County sites are company-owned, although it has a growing number of franchisees.
Fiesta is also exploring possible new sites.
“We’re always toying with the idea, and we could open new locations,” Mathieu said. “But it can’t be half-hearted. And it would have to equal the customer experience that we offer at our existing locations.”
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