Peter Yang

Co-Founder of Pokeworks

Peter Yang is a millennial entrepreneur, a second-generation restaurateur and the co-founder and Chief Development Officer of Pokeworks. Yang was exposed to the restaurant industry at a young age, with parents who owned their own successful restaurant and having started working in a restaurant with a workers permit at age 15. After earning his degree from UCSD in structural engineering, he went on to pursue a career in the field. However, after a few months Yang decided it wasn’t a fit for him and went on to follow his passion for the restaurant industry. At this time, Yang’s father was bringing a concept from China to the US, launching in New York and Peter jumped at the opportunity to manage the entire launch in Manhattan at just 22 years old.

In 2015, Yang capitalized on his expansive knowledge in restaurants and came together with his brother and some of his college buddies to found Pokeworks, a millennial-fueled brand bringing Hawaiian-inspired poké burritos and bowls to the masses catering to the rising trend focusing on healthy and sustainable lifestyles. Pokeworks offers its customers Hawaiian-inspired poke burritos and bowls derived from the highest quality ingredients from local waters. In 2018, Yang was recognized as one of Forbes 30 Under 30. Today, Pokeworks is one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing poke brands in North America with 46 locations open and more than 180 under development since 2016.

Where did the idea for Pokeworks come from?

Pokeworks was created to satisfy the trend and increased demand for healthier, quick, customizable, and affordable food for people on the go, without sacrificing flavor and experience. After experiencing delicious poke in Hawaii, we set out to share this product with the rest of the mainland, serving poke with quality and thoughtful ingredients. Consumers are more educated than ever on what’s good for them, so we carefully curated our ingredients and customizable menu satisfied any diet. Consumers are also more well-traveled than ever before, so we did not shy away from introducing global flavors to traditional poke, such as Korean gochujang, Sichuan peppercorn, or serrano and ghost peppers. At the end of the day, we just want to serve up good food, practice Aloha, and spread good vibes.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

It has been a crazy ride since our first location in 2016, so my day to day is always changing (which I love). But the core has remained the same, which is to support our brand in whatever way the team needs me to, to move the needle. I’m not big on titles, so whether that’s jumping in to help prep salmon at one of our shops, or leading our Development team to see which market to enter next, I’m there!

Currently, my role is leading the Development team at Pokeworks, supporting our franchisees with operations, real estate, design and development, and construction. To remain productive, I love referring to the Eisenhower Matrix to categorize my tasks. It helps me stay focused on how to best lead our team.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I was quoted for “Passion is half the equation, but grit is the other half.” I firmly believe this to help carry ideas to life. Chatting and sharing ideas is always fun and stimulating, which stirs up passion and excitement. But it falls back on grit to carry you through the grueling stages of details, planning, and execution.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Consumers being more socially responsible. It’s a beautiful trend that demands integrity and responsible sourcing. At Pokeworks, our core values include:
• Sustainability: Fulfill today’s needs without compromising tomorrow.
• Integrity: Keep it real. Do the right thing!
Another trend is the globalization of flavors and ethnic spices. We’re exposed to unique flavors and ingredients from all corners of the world, more than ever before. I’m thrilled to see what creative chefs around the world will create next.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

“Do something new every day.” Doing something new every day helps me to continue pushing myself, and to make sure the status quo is constantly being challenged.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Slow down and listen.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

IPAs are overrated.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Prioritize your time for family and loved ones. It puts everything in perspective and rejuvenates your sense of passion and purpose.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Franchising our business greatly helped us scale across major markets and internationally. The decision was not an easy one, as it required us to drastically change our operations and team, however, staying nimble and flexible, allowed us to pivot successfully.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Earlier in my career, I did not understand how to effectively motivate a team. It caused a lot of inefficiencies and frustration. I spent a lot of time reflecting and reached out to leaders I admired. Through hard work and patience, it’s now a strength of mine.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

An app to connect amateur chefs and foodies. Where chefs can create and serve meals in the comfort of their home kitchen to foodies searching for a “home-cooked” meal experience.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Diving with Manta Rays in Kona, HI. Surreal life experience to swim with those gentle giants.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I use Google Calendar religiously. Asana helps organize communication with my team.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Traction by Gino Wickman. It’s a great book to help you stay organized and focus your team, as you grow your business.

What is your favorite quote?

I have a few. “Do something new every day,” “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” “A small step a day can lead you to amazing places,” and “Fail forward.”

Key Learnings:

  • Surround yourself with a positive and uplifting team. Trust them and lean on them to help you make the best decisions.
  • How you do something is how you do everything: Don’t skip over the small or mundane tasks. In the end, the details make up the whole.
  • Spend quality time with family and loved ones to rejuvenate.