Uptown News

Poke restaurant in Uptown Dallas closes but the story doesn't end there

Poke restaurant in Uptown Dallas closes but story doesn't end there

Malibu Poke Austin
Poke was a trend that surged in 2016. Photo by Robert Jacob Lerma

A poke restaurant has closed in Dallas, which on the surface is a sad thing but also provides insight into what's working in Dallas restaurants right now.

The restaurant: Malibu Poke, the acclaimed concept from restaurateur Jon Alexis (TJ's Seafood), and the location that closed was in the McKinney & Olive building at 2355 Olive St. It closed in June.

But Alexis, surely one of Dallas' more articulate restaurateurs, says he'd describe this as more of a relocation than a closure.

"The original Malibu Poke at 3888 Oak Lawn Ave. is still open and doing better than pre-COVID days," he says. "It was rocking throughout 2020. People told us that the only healthy food they ate was at Malibu Poke. COVID-19 has put restaurateurs through every possible experience you could imagine, but it's also taught us some lessons."

That includes the folly right now of operating a restaurant in a downtown area at a time when many office workers are still working remotely.

"Part of the initial appeal of opening at that building was that it's near downtown," Alexis says. "I officed out of there for a while and it was really cool. I could walk to the Dallas Museum of Art, or take a walk to the Katy Trail."

"But being in an office building in 2021 is a challenge," he says. "When we were open, 100 percent of the business was Monday-through-Friday lunch. Even prior to the pandemic, we'd already discussed not opening on weekends. We all want downtown Dallas to thrive. And prior to the pandemic, it felt like it was making strides, but like every downtown area, it's been hit hard by COVID-19."

Malibu Poke was also at the cusp of a poke trend that surged in 2016 but then like all trends has flagged.

"A lot of poke places have closed, but we don't think of ourselves as a poke restaurant so much as, we're an alternative to a $50 sushi lunch," Alexis says. "For us, poke wasn't like opening a frozen yogurt store. Raw fish is a religion, and the reason I felt confident about it is because, with my background at TJ's Seafood, all I do is raw fish."

Malibu also has more than poke on its menu, from teriyaki chicken to a vegan ginger tofu bowl to garlic ramen noodles.

Alexis says he's planning on opening at least two more locations in 2022.

"I'm definitely going to open another location in Dallas, and another location in Austin, too, in neighborhoods that want healthy food that's not fast-food," he says. "Weirdly, it took the pandemic to prove that what we do works, even if it took down one of our locations."