WASILLA — Tasha Kahele and her family have been busy keeping up with customers lining up at the door since they opened the latest addition to their chain of Hawaiian restaurants in downtown Wasilla, Lei’s Poke stop.
The Wasilla restaurant opened toward the end of May, bearing the same name as its Anchorage predecessor located within the Tikahtnu Mall. Kahele said they also run a food truck called Da Poke Man Express. She said they moved to Alaska from Hawaii over a decade ago and recently planted their roots in the Valley.
“We just wanted to share our culture and our food with the community that we live in. We wanted to bring the aloha spirit to the Valley now that we live out here,” Kahele said. “We wish that we moved out here sooner.”
According to Kahele, business has yet to slow since their official grand opening ceremony. She said they’re thankful for such a good problem to have, selling out of menu items on a regular basis.
“The line’s been out the door and around the corner since we opened… We closed most nights sold out or almost sold out. So, it’s been really pretty amazing,” Kahele said.
Kahele noted that there’s a lot of travel between Alaska and Hawaii, with annual visitors, snowbirds, and transplants on both sides of the map. She said they ran a successful family restaurant back in Oahu before making the move to the Last Frontier. She said that many customers appreciate feeling like they’re back in Hawaii by coming to their restaurants.
“We loved Alaska so much. We wanted to make it our home, and we missed our real home so much. The only way I think we could survive here so far away from home was creating that same kind of atmosphere in Alaska… It really makes being away from home so much easier,” Kahele said. “We get to share that with everyone… To bring the best of Hawaii here.”
The Anchorage and Wasilla restaurants are named after Kahele’s eldest daughter Lei, who’s been working with the family since she was 16. She said that Lei is currently the half owner of the Tikahtnu location, She said the whole family is involved with their restaurant and various other business ventures.
“It’s been a pretty amazing journey… We get to get up every day and do what we love to do as a family,” Kahele said.
Kahele said the name was originally Aloha Poke Stop, but they were forced to change it due to a cease and desist letter from a Chicago chain called Aloha Poke Co.
“We had to go through a whole rebranding stage. It was a huge ordeal, not just here in Anchorage but all over the world, especially in Hawaii. It prompted a lot of bills to be written about cultural appropriation… as being Native Hawaiian, having rights to our own language in our own businesses, because people who weren’t were using it to make money,” Kahele said. “We’re still going strong.”
Poke is a traditional Hawaiian style of cooking serving diced, raw fish. Kahele said it’s one of the main dishes of Native Hawaiian cuisine, and it’s very important to their family and countless others.
“It originates to old Hawaii where they used to catch reef fish and utilize what they got from the land, from the seabeds, and they mixed it… Now we mix it with onions and different sauces… We make different flavors, different styles… You can poke anything—any kind of fish, any kind of protein— and make a poke with it,” Kahele said.
Kahele said that one of their main long term goals is to bring their annual event, Aloha in Alaska Music Festival to the Valley through their entertainment company, hosting Hawaiian vendors and entertainers. She said they aspire to keep growing onward and upward as a family run business living out the aloha spirit.
“We thought after the first week it would slow down, but it just keeps getting better and better each day,”
The new Wasilla Lei’s Poke Stop is located within the Target Mall, near Starbucks. For more information, visit leispokestopak.com.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at email@example.com