Mayor Toni Harp cut the ceremonial ribbon at Hawaiian poke restaurant Pokémoto on Tuesday at a celebration hosted by Yale University Properties to welcome the restaurant to the Whitney-Audubon Retail and Arts District in downtown New Haven.

The restaurant, which officially opened Oct. 12, was founded by Thomas Nguyen and Gladys Longwa, who together oversee the restaurant’s management. Nguyen previously lived in California and spent time in Hawaii working at Foodland, the poke restaurant that inspired him to start his own.

“The first time I had [poke] I thought ‘Wow, this is awesome,” said Nguyen, who first tried poke more than a decade ago. “Working at Foodland in Hawaii, I learned all the tricks and how to make the best poke around.”

Nguyen said it was while working as a manager at New Haven’s FroyoWorld, where he began six years ago, that he learned how to run a business. He also learned about the consumer habits of Yale students, who he says like to eat healthy, high-quality food.

More people attended than Nguyen had expected, he said, admitting that he had been “a little nervous” about the ceremony. There were members of the community, office workers and students in attendance.

“After the ceremony happened, we had a big rush of people come into the restaurant to try poke, so we were busy for a couple hours straight,” he said.

Pokémoto customers interviewed by the News gave the restaurant positive reviews.

Kathy Riegelman, owner of Katalina’s Bakery — located on the same street as Pokémoto in New Haven’s Whitney-Audubon Retail and Arts District — said she had eaten at Pokémoto in recent days.

“It was super tasty, so we are really excited to have a healthy option to add to my lunch,” she said. “I am a picky eater so this is perfect.”

Riegelman told the News that she was excited to welcome another restaurant owner to the community.

Hamden resident Shipra Srihari GRD ’03 said she visited New Haven Wednesday to try Pokémoto on a friend’s recommendation. She was not disappointed.

“The flavors are good and the ingredients are fresh and … It seems like good quality,” she said. “I’m always looking for new restaurants to try, so I was excited about being able to get poke in New Haven.”

Srihari added that she particularly appreciated the poke bowls’ natural ingredients.

Located at 99 Audubon, Pokémoto and is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Christina Carrafiell | christina.carrafiell@yale.edu