Poke House, First Location in Santa Cruz

Entrepreneur Combines Two SBA Loans to Bring Poké House to Santa Cruz, Bay Area

Success Story
October 18, 2022

Post-surf Craving Leads to a Solid Business and Substantial Growth

By CDC Small Business Finance Marketing Staff

Ideas for new businesses are as numerous as the entrepreneurs that launch them. But few are spawned from a morning surf session and a particular food craving. In Santa Cruz, a town known for its idyllic landscapes, coastal drives, and surf culture, a new eatery was born out of necessity and hunger: Poké House

“A friend and I had just finished catching waves in Santa Cruz, and we were hungry for poké,” said co-founder, Peter Wong, conjuring up images and smells of the now-popular Japanese-Hawaiian-inspired food. “But we couldn’t find a poké restaurant nearby.”

Peter’s imagination started to churn as he looked to close the ledger on his banking vocation and launch a poké eatery in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz. Ultimately, he followed through with this plan, partnering with his surf buddy, Jason Hikida, and brother, Henry Wong, to open their first location in 2019.

SBA Financing Provides One-two Punch to Bridge Funding Gap

With a clear business model but a need for capital to make it happen, Peter got a tip from a colleague about CDC Small Business Finance (CDCSBF). Peter began to see the difference between CDCSBF and traditional banks. As a mission-based lender and part of the Momentus Capital branded family of organizations, CDC Small Business Finance often steps in when traditional financial institutions may deny funding to small businesses. Where traditional banks see risk, CDC sees opportunity, inclusion, and a way to support the community. 

Peter applied for and secured a SBA Community Advantage Loan with CDC to fund the interior construction of his new restaurant – Poké House. But Peter needed additional working capital to buy initial food inventory and pay his employees. So CDC loan expert Stacey Sanchez recommended Peter apply for a SBA Microloan. Problem solved.

“Stacey and CDC gave me the confidence to know that even with my initial limited resources, there is a company out there — and government lending programs that can bridge the gap,” said Peter.

Despite having a bachelor’s degree in business management and an MBA, Peter was anxious about the risk of taking on substantial debt. Stacey successfully calmed his nerves.

Henry (center) and Poke House team members.
Henry (center) and Poke House team members.
Outside of Poke House, Santa Cruz.
Outside of Poke House, Santa Cruz.

Funding Expertise Leads to Confidence in Process

“Stacey was accommodating, guiding me through the loan application process,” he said. “She’s very bright and encouraging and brings good energy to bear on challenges. People like Stacey help make CDC Small Business Finance so successful.”

Stacey confided that when she first met Peter, she didn’t know what poké was.

“But I knew after getting to know Peter that the poké restaurant concept would work,” she said. “Plus, Peter has a great sense of humor, which can go a long way when you’re plunging into a new entrepreneurial venture.”

Peter recalled the moment he learned CDC Small Business Finance approved him for two SBA loans, which paved the way to begin work on his new restaurant.

“I felt immediately hopeful,” he said. “I’d worked with other entrepreneurs in the lending business, but it wasn’t until I got approval that I felt like an entrepreneur in my own right. I knew then my dreams were achievable.”

“The team’s ability to put together a set of loan offerings to ensure Poke House received access to the capital they deserve is inspiring,” said Shelli Hayman, Senior Vice President, Small Business Lending for CDC Small Business Finance. “As part of Momentus Capital, we can now do even more by offering a range of financial, knowledge, and social capital to small business entrepreneurs to help them and their communities succeed.”

Poké House Enjoys Steady Growth Despite Challenges

By 2019, Poké House was up and running, serving Santa Cruz residents and hordes of hungry UC Santa Cruz students. As customers order, the food evolves in front of them as employees assemble nuggets of fresh fish and other seafood in a bowl, complemented by mixed greens, vegetables, and various kinds of rice and sauces.

“Poké is the perfect fusion of Japanese and California cuisine,” said Peter. “Our concept is to provide fresh, fast, high quality, filling food at reasonable prices.”

As the pandemic descended on the community, Poké House was able to stay afloat and prosper through online ordering. During 2020 and 2021, Peter even saw 25% growth. This sustained success has led Poké House to open restaurants in Monterey, San Jose, Santa Clara, Fremont, Palo Alto, Santa Cruz, and San Mateo.

And there are plans to open two more locations in Daly City and Mountain View.

“It’s a testament to our ability to provide quality, good-tasting food consistently,” he said. “We’ve become a ‘go-to’ restaurant offering food that people crave.”

Care to learn more about the SBA Community Advantage Loan or SBA Microloan? Connect with one of our small business loan experts today. They can guide you along in the process, as Stacey did with Peter.