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Beaufort & Blake meet James Gould-Porter

Inspired by time spent out in Hawaii as a boy, James Gould-Porter founded Island Poké, bringing the fresh, raw fish rice bowls to our shores. From street food stalls, fast-forward five years and Island Poké now has fifteen locations across London and France. A far cry from lack-lustre meal deals and overpriced wraps, Island Poké is leading the way for delicious and healthy grab-and-go lunches. He tells us about the highs and lows, and the importance of rolling with the punches.

Tell us a bit about yourself, have you always wanted to set up your own food business?

I’ve always been really into food, drink and travel; the places I’ve been to and the experiences I’ve had have really shaped me. In 2011, I spent a year studying in Florence with my best mate. Set in the central market there’s a food stall called ‘Nerbone’ – it’s a favourite spot with the locals and we fell in love with their dishes. They serve a whole host of Tuscan delicacies, including bollito – a delicious slow cooked beef sandwich with tangy salsa. The following year, during our university summer holiday, we set up a street food stand called the ‘Bollito Brothers’, making and selling them at Brick Lane market. It was a great experience and kicked off my interest in setting up a food business.

When it comes to Poké, that all started when I was just a boy. Dad is from Southern California and so I spent a lot of time out there and in Hawaii, where we came across a roadside Poké shack. There was a real humbleness to the product, simply served up and eaten on the beach. They really focused on the quality of the ingredients and I was hooked the first time I tried it.

From starting out at street food markets, Island Poké now has 15 locations across London and France. Has it been a smooth journey?

It definitely hasn’t been plain sailing! We set up our first bricks and mortar site on Kingly St, Soho in 2016. My team consisted of friends and we set the tone for a really fun, high energy atmosphere, which definitely rubbed off on our customers. As soon as we got people through the door and tasting our product, we started to see some faces daily. However, word of mouth takes time to spread. At one point we only had £240 in the bank. But then we were featured in Timeout as the no.4 place to eat in London for under a tenner and the next day we had a queue down the street!

Other particular highlights include; burglaries, floods, a stolen car driving through the shopfront and, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic… 

Any advice for someone wanting to set up their own business?

Get ready for the biggest challenge of your life, back yourself and roll with the punches. Cherish the small wins and don’t dwell too much on the knockbacks. 

How are you managing with lockdown? Any recommendations to keep us sane?

Lockdown certainly has a different feel to it this time round, I guess we’re all a bit more mentally prepared. I’m taking the time to test new ideas in the kitchen and making space for meditation. I’m also listening to the audiobook ‘How I Built This’ by Guy Raz, a series about start-ups and entrepreneurs. It’s pretty motivational and I’d recommend it to anyone flirting with the idea of setting up their own business.

How would you describe your personal style?

I like to put on a smart-ish shirt to kick start my working day and get me in the mindset. I always chuck a sweater over the top on cold days, this one is great!

What’s your ultimate poké bowl?

The Classic Ahi tuna and Yuzu Lomi Lomi salmon bowls are always a winner. Adapting to lockdown, they’re now available as DIY Poké Kits that can be delivered to anyone inside the M25. Packed full of fresh ingredients and simple to prepare, we hope they’ll give you a boost and break up a bit of the mundanity of lockdown.

Find your nearest Island Poké store or order a takeaway here.

Fancy learning how to make it? The Island Poké cookbook will have you hooked.

Photography: Ciarán Spencer 

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