Caroline Moore

Mayor Toni Harp cut the ceremonial ribbon at Hawaiian poke restaurant Pokémoto on Tuesday afternoon at a celebration hosted by Yale University Properties. The restaurant celebrated the opening of its second location in New Haven at 1145 Chapel St. at the Shops at Yale.

Thomas Nguyen and Gladys Longwa opened the first Pokémoto location on Audubon Street in 2017. Although Nguyen was first exposed to poke while living in Hawaii, it was not until he worked as a manager at New Haven’s FroyoWorld six years ago that he became inspired to start his own poke restaurant here in the Elm City. The Chapel Street location officially opened in the beginning of October.

“[Pokémoto] was something that New Haven needed,” Nguyen said in an interview with the News. “It was a fast-casual option that the city didn’t have, and I knew it was something that local residents and Yale students would love.”

Members of the New Haven and Yale communities gathered at Pokémoto’s Chapel Street location to celebrate the restaurant’s second location, which Nguyen said was necessary given that the lines at the Audubon location consistently extended “way outside the door.”

In addition to its two New Haven locations, Pokémoto has locations in Hamden, Fairfield, Norwalk and North Attleborough, Massachusetts. According to the restaurant’s website, five more locations will soon arrive in Connecticut, as well as two in Rhode Island and two in Massachusetts.

Tuesday’s ceremony began with a speech from Lauren Zucker, Yale’s director of New Haven affairs and University Properties, who praised Nguyen for his originality and attention to quality and service in his restaurants.

“Judging by the lines outside your current New Haven location at 99 Audubon St., it is not surprising that we are here celebrating the expansion of this local Connecticut-based business,” Zucker said in her speech. “Thomas [Nguyen], the operator of Pokémoto, is a local resident and UConn grad who has brought to New Haven not only great food, but great service.”

Zucker described the basics of poke cuisine and listed the offerings found at Pokémoto, speaking to its ability to be both healthy and delicious.

“Although poke rhymes with OK, it is clearly more than just that,” she joked.

Zucker also highlighted the University’s long-standing community investment program, which she said is evidence of Yale’s commitment to working with the local community.

Zucker noted that helping local entrepreneurs grow their businesses and bringing more jobs to New Haven are the most important ways in which Yale promotes the city’s economic development.

Before performing the official ribbon cutting, Harp took a few minutes to congratulate Nguyen on the rapid success of Pokémoto, noting that a second location is a great addition to the “foodie city” — a reference to New Haven’s abundance of critically acclaimed restaurants.

“New Haven’s economic development team is here, as well as Chapel West Special Services District, and we will do whatever we can to ensure that you are successful,” she added. “Please let us know how we can be helpful, and we wish you congratulations and the best of luck.”

Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19, who participated in the ribbon cutting, said he is thrilled that Pokémoto — where he is a frequent customer— has opened another location closer to Yale. He added that he is especially excited that the locally owned business has seen so much success despite large competitors.

“I think something to emphasize is acknowledging Yale’s commitment to small businesses,” Catalbasoglu told the News. “With Patagonia and L.L. Bean, the narrative seems to be that Yale doesn’t care about the ‘little guy,’ but today obviously showed us otherwise … and as a product of a small business family, I appreciate that very much.”

The Shops at Yale feature major brand-name stores, including L.L. Bean, Patagonia and J. Crew, as well as locally owned businesses including Book Trader Café, Moon Rocks Gourmet Cookies and CandiTopia.

Both Pokémoto locations are open seven days a week. Its location on 1145 Chapel St. is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and its location on 99 Audubon St. is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Caroline Moore | caroline.moore@yale.edu