Getting Salty with Jacob Afoa of Manoa Poke

Jacob Afoa
Jacob Afoa

Jacob Afoa, 32, will officially reopen Somerville’s much-loved Manoa Poke Shop on Oct. 12, delighting fans who reveled in its easygoing island vibe and fresh raw-fish bowls. Afoa will also introduce more Polynesian specialties this time around. The restaurant closed in January after two years in business. Afoa originally thought he’d stick to catering but then settled on weekend hours (11 a.m. until 9 p.m.). “Our customers really missed us,” he says. “This is for them.”

What’s the first restaurant you ever ate at in Boston?

Oh, gosh! Let’s see. I was a huge fan of pizza and sushi. My fiancée knew I was a big fan, so she took me to Hana Sushi, right down the street from her house. It blew my mind. The only sushi I had before was back in Samoa, and I believe we only had one sushi restaurant on island. This was about seven years ago.

What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here?


The prices. I wish we had the same kind of fish prices that we have back home. Unfortunately, that’s hard to come by. We try to keep the lowest price point possible for our customers.

How has the restaurant landscape changed since you arrived in Boston?

From my point of view, I see things from a business owner’s perspective. I see price points and try to compare ours to theirs. Ever since we opened up, I check out the quality of food — right now, I know exactly what good fish is. I always take a look at the fish and examine it and try to get my perspective. It’s broadened my view of food. I also see a lot more fast-casual [restaurants] opening up and not so many sit-down restaurants. I can appreciate a good sit-down restaurant, but a lot of owners are going for in and out.


What other restaurants do you visit?

I love a good Korean barbecue spot. The owner of Sura in Medford is a nice guy, always very welcoming. We also visit our friends at DakZen, the Thai restaurant in Davis Square. They’re customers of ours, we’re customers of theirs, and always pushing to help each other out.

What’s your earliest food memory that made you think, ‘I want to work in restaurants?’

I grew up in a family that catered a lot. My mother was the baker of the family. We come from a long line of bakers. This was back in Samoa, I was probably five or six, and my mom would bake pineapple pies and send me to the bingo hall to sell them. You could always count on a bingo hall to be on the islands! That was one of my first memories, me working at a very young age.

What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had?

Back home in the islands, there’s not much customer service. People don’t believe in that, only because everybody knows everyone there. Being treated like you’re nobody — I did not enjoy that. I started a pizza business in college, and I wanted to be better than everyone else by having a great customer experience, so it actually was successful until I moved off-island to come up and help my family in Seattle. One family member was very sick, so I wanted to be around to help out.


How could Boston become a better food city?

Boston is a top-tier food city to me! Bostonians have a rough outer shell, but once you break past it, they are the most loyal people you’ll ever meet. I love the culture and how straightforward everything is. Nobody sugarcoats anything. I appreciate that.

Name three adjectives for Boston diners.

Amazing, of course. Really loyal. And just dependable. We have customers who used to show up three or four times a week. I really appreciate those customers.

What’s the most overdone trend right now?

I would say poke burritos. It’s a silly idea. You want sushi, go grab sushi!

What are you reading?

I read a lot of random things online. I watch a lot of food videos. It’s very random. I read random things online. No actual books at the moment.

How’s your commute?

We live a mile away. My staff consists of my fiancée, me, and our brothers. We all live together and commute together. We live near Tufts University. We drive.

What’s the one food you never want to eat again?

Cold chicken feet.

What kind of restaurant is Boston missing right now?

I think people in the South Pacific are underrepresented out here. I’d love to see more Polynesian food. That’s what we’re trying to do, by running specials every week.

What’s your most missed Boston restaurant?

Takusan — it was a solid go-to sushi place that we really loved. They closed down three years ago, and it nearly broke our hearts.


Who was your most memorable customer?

Our first customer, Clayton, who completed our rewards card first. He’s still an avid customer to this day. He showed up on Sunday, and I looked at all the guys and told them this story.

If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, what would it be?

I would love me a good bowl of clam chowder. I don’t remember the name; it’s in Manchester by the Sea. It’s right in the middle of town. Some of the best chowder I’ve ever had.

Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.