Island Poke is to focus its future UK expansion outside the capital as the regions become a more prominent sales channel post-pandemic, James Gould-Porter, founder of Island Poke told MCA.

Named winner of the Emerging Concept category at MCA’s Retailer’s Retailer Awards last week, the Hawaiian-inspired food to go chain has aspirations to become the number one global poke brand, and has just secured new investment from German Doner Kebab’s parent company Hero Brands to help fund its expansion plans.

The business continued to open new sites during the pandemic – doubling in size to 17 over the past year, including franchise sites in France, and is looking to expand further once restrictions are lifted, with plans for a further 40 sites over the next five years in the country.

“We have got a few more coming in France in 2021, and then I think we will turn our attention to the wider UK, outside London,” said Gould-Porter. “I think that’s going to be critical – probably one of our main growth verticals in the current climate,” he said.

“We are growing in our stature in London but there is a massive opportunity to go beyond that,” he said. However, while the business has ambitions to grow outside the capital, “London will always be the beating heart of our business, and we will only grow in scale if we look after our backyard”.

In addition, the White Rabbit Fund-backed business opened four dark kitchens in London last year and is also viewing that as a potential growth channel moving forwards.

Speaking about the challenges of the past year, Gould-Porter said: “Hospitality has been massively shaken up. I do really feel for the sit-down dining market; with us in QSR we have a bit more opportunity and flex with the likes of Deliveroo, so our revenue hasn’t been completely turned off and it has allowed us to be more nimble and think wider about opportunities.”

Alongside its physical expansion last year, Island Poke also developed DIY poke boxes, which enabled it to reach a wider audience, and importantly those customers not travelling into London. “We are going to put a lot more energy and effort into developing new SKUs as we feel this is a part of the business that’s here to stay,” he added.