After earning a marketing degree at the Fisher College of Business in 2014, Nile Woodson put his knowledge to the test. Throughout his undergrad years, Woodson worked as a server and soon realized he had a passion for creating experiences that went beyond serving a good meal.
In the fall of 2015, Woodson started Hai Poké, a food truck that serves Hawaiian island-inspired street food, something he said Columbus has never seen before. The main dish served is poké, raw fish served over rice, similar to a deconstructed sushi roll. Customers can choose from tofu, veggies, tuna or salmon to add to their bowl. Woodson said he wanted to keep the menu small, fresh and simple, with only nine items.
Woodson got the idea to bring poké to Columbus after spending some time in California, where he grew a liking to the dish. Once back in Columbus, he realized it was something the city didn’t offer. With Columbus being such a growing city, owners Woodson and Mico Cordero said they wanted to educate the community, and bring something new to the place they call home.
In summer 2015, Woodson sought help to get the business started up. He brought the idea to roommate and friend Cordero, who had originally intended to stay in Columbus for just a few months, but decided to stay and make Hai Poké a reality
“It’s important for people to try new things, and poké is really delicious. It’s fresh and fast,” Woodson said. “We are committed to keeping Columbus on trend.”
“Hai” is a Japanese word for yes, so the literal meaning of the truck’s name is “Yes Poké!” The owners also said they wanted to stay true to their roots and incorporate the homonym for High Street into the name, the place where they lived and started the business.
The Hai Poké food truck can be found in locations across the city. The truck is parked at Zauber Brewery on Sundays, and stops at different locations at the Ohio State medical campus during lunch hours on weekdays. In addition to the food truck, Hai Poké is also known for its many kitchen takeovers. The dish is served during lunch hours Downtown at Pure Pressed Juicery, and for dinner at Oddfellows in the Short North. The food truck’s location is regularly updated on its Twitter account.
In the truck’s first year of business, Cordero said he’s learned a lot about running a business.
“I’ve learned that it is OK to ask questions and learn,” Cordero said. “Columbus is very supportive.”
The timeline for expanding the business includes the goal of a brick-and-mortar location by spring 2017, and a second location by the end of 2017.
“It’s really important to show people that we are committed to the vision,” Cordero said. “It’s so easy for people to question us because we are 25 (years old).”