Business Elmwood Food

Two Local Entrepreneurs Bring Pokéworks Brand to West Hartford

Sonny Chen (left) and Max Condren are co-owners of Pokeworks. Courtesy photo

Pokéworks is now open in The Corbin Collection and will hold an official grand opening on Sept. 21.

Poke bowl with a ahi tun and scallops, mango, ogo seaweed, cilantro, and topped with seaweed salad and wonton crisps. Photo credit: Ronni Newton


By Ronni Newton

Two longtime friends who began collaborating as entrepreneurs in their elementary school days shoveling driveways, selling computers, and washing cars, have now teamed up to bring a popular national restaurant brand to West Hartford.

Sonny Chen and Max Condren – who grew up together in Hartford, played soccer together, attended Noah Webster Elementary School together, and worked together to earn spending money – are now the owners of the new Pokéworks franchise at 1445 New Britain Ave. in The Corbin Collection in West Hartford’s Corbin’s Corner.

Pokéworks features fresh and healthy Hawaiian-inspired poke bowls and burritos including signature selections as well as a completely customizable “poke your way” menu. The fast-growing chain was founded in 2015.

Many know Chen as the owner of Black Bamboo, a popular Chinese restaurant that opened on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford in late 2010. When Chen and his family opened that restaurant, Condren helped out with some back-end computer work, but the two never lost the desire to really team up.

“I just knew that Max was the guy that I needed to help take that next step with. We share the same drive for success,” Chen said.

Chen, who now lives in West Hartford, and Condren, who lives in the west end of Hartford, made plans to rekindle the entrepreneurial partnership they had forged as children and teens. After Condren visited the original Pokéworks in New York City and fell in love with it, they solidified their plans to purchase a local franchise.

Pokeworks burrito. Courtesy photo

“It’s a whole lifestyle, very healthy eating,” Chen said. “You feel good.”

Chen said that Pokéworks, which is one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing poke brands, emphasizes a variety of fresh and authentic ingredients. 

“Inspired by sustainable, seasonal and natural ingredients, Pokéworks believes in the importance of meeting today’s needs while preserving our oceans,” a news release states.

The customizable nature of poke allows it to meet virtually all dietary needs – gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and many more, with a choice of raw or cooked protein that includes tuna, salmon, shrimp, scallops, chicken, and tofu.

The base can be sushi rice or brown rice, quinoa, lettuce, kale noodles, or you can have your poke as a burrito in a roasted seaweed wrap.

Mix-ins include two different types of seaweed (the traditional Hawaiian ogo seaweed as well as Japanese hijiki seaweed), onion, edamame, cucumber, kale, shies, cilantro, mango, and more. Diners can include as many as they like.

There are eight different sauce options ranging from the mild (but still very flavorful) classic sauce, to spicy siracha and wasabi, to sweet chili gochujang.

After the sauce, diners can add toppings like avocado, seaweed salad, surimi salad, and more – as well as a choice of “crunch” like wonton or onion crisps.

Coco Mango Haupia. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Pokéworks also offers a variety of organic craft sodas, teas, and a delicious Coco Mango Haupia (a mango-topped coconut milk pudding) for those craving something sweet to end the meal.

“We don’t try to cut corners,” Chen said.

“Poke lovers in West Hartford will quickly come to find that Pokéworks is substantially different than your typical fast-casual restaurant,” Condren said. “Our genuinely fresh ingredients, responsibly-sourced seafood and chef-curated sauces, paired with the unique demographic of the Greater Hartford community makes Pokéworks the perfect destination for fresh, fast and reliable food.”

The West Hartford Pokéworks is the third to open in the state. Existing locations in Wilton and Westport, and a soon-to-open Greenwich location, are owned by a different franchise owner. Chen and Condren have the rights to open three franchises in the Greater Hartford area.

There are a total of 40 Pokéworks locations nationwide, in California, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, Illinois, and Texas, as well as Connecticut. The company plans to have more than 100 locations open by the end of 2020.

The grand opening of West Hartford’s Pokéworks on Sept. 21 will feature “a taste of the islands with a special all-day buy one, get one free deal … exclusive giveaways and prizes, [and] the first 50 guests in line will enjoy a coveted Pokéworks branded coconut,” a news release states.

Pokéworks of West Hartford is open from Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Matt Miramant is the location manager.

For more information on Pokéworks of West Hartford, call 860-521-8888 or visit their website.  

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Sonny Chen (left) and Max Condren at the friends and family event for Pokeworks. The two are co-owners of Pokeworks. Courtesy photo

A variety of Poke bowls. Courtesy photo

Pokeworks is located at 1445 New Britain Ave. in The Corbin Collection in Corbin’s Corner. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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