After making a name for himself as one of the top young chefs in Hawaii, it would seem only natural that he would strike out on his own. That’s exactly what Elmer Guzman has done with the opening of Poke Stop in Waipahu.
More seafood store than actual restaurant, Guzman is hoping to cater to the wants of those he knows well — his neighbors. “I live 10 minutes away. I don’t have to fight the traffic,” said the chef whose dedication to Hawaii’s favorite pupu is already causing long lines at his two-week-old establishment. “I love my seafood and they love their seafood. People on this side love their poke, and they do more picnicking in this area and have a lot of family gatherings.”
Calling it gourmet food on styrofoam plates, the Poke Stop’s menu boasts soups, salads, bentos, hot dishes, ready prepared fish that all you do is take home and pop in the oven, and of course, five different types of poke. But don’t let the small number of items fool you. Guzman will make any item to order.
“Other places mix 40-50 pounds of poke at a time. I only make about four-pound batches so that it is fresh. Whatever comes out of my mind I create. At some places you see the same thing forever. Here you may never see it again. It just depends on how I feel.”
By opening Poke Stop and with plans for a regular sit-down restaurant possibly in Kapolei in the near future, Elmer is trying to keep up with the goals he set with former boss and mentor Alan Wong.
“When I was training under Alan, we always talked. We had these father-and-son talks. He took me under his wing. He asked ‘What are your goals?’ I said I don’t know, I’m just gonna work under people. And he said no, that’s not how to do it. You have to set goals in life.”
So far, he’s doing pretty good. At 27 he wanted to be an executive chef. He was, at Sam Choy’s Diamond Head Grill. He had to wait an extra two years to get a book published, which he did in February of last year when he appeared on MidWeek’s cover with The Shoreline Chef. And to be his own boss by the time he was 34 or 35. He’s 35 now and is working toward his next set of goals that will hopefully see Poke Stop branch out into other areas and, as mentioned, a sit-down restaurant.
But no matter where his career takes him, it will be family that provides the direction.
“Overall the thing is to have time with my family. You work from 11 in the morning and you finish at 10 and you never see your daughters. You go to work and they are at school and when you come home they are sleeping. For seven long years. That wore on me.”
Now the girls are just 10 minutes from Dad’s new restaurant.
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