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Kahuku poke shack owner says he was taught by his grandfather to make poke

Couple Ryan and Khannie Ching stand outside their poke shack. He is wearing a grey T-shirt and backwards baseball cap and she is wearing an apron.

When his eyes are closed, Ryan Ching said he can see a crystal-clear image of his grandfather: Ching is 5 years old, the baseball game is on and he is sitting on his grandpa’s lap playing with his chest hair and slapping his belly. Ching said he recalls pu pu platters, or trays of appetizers, on the table before them, which consist of pistachio nuts, boiled peanuts and the most important ingredient always present in his grandpa’s pu pu platter: poke.

Over the years Ching, a resident of Ewa, Hawaii, said he had been looking for a job he loved—one he was passionate about and could look forward to every morning. After he and his wife, Khannie Ching, took a chance and opened Ry’s Poke Shack in Kahuku one year ago, Ryan Ching said he never snoozes his alarm anymore. Instead, his body wakes him up an hour ahead of time. His eagerness to wake up for work was how he knew he loved what he was doing, Ryan Ching explained.

Khannie Ching added, “Service is Ryan’s [Ching’s] passion, and he has an affinity like no other for poke and Hawaii.” Ryan Ching said his poke is inspired by his grandfather’s techniques he learned as a child.

A close-up  photo of a serving of poke, which is raw fish prepared with seasons and served with lettuce, cucumbers and baby tomatoes.

Tailor-made poke

Instead of marinating the fish in the sauce and preparing it all before the customers come, Ryan Ching said he and his wife create each dish with thought to the individual customer as it is ordered. He said each dish is tailored to the customer as it is made fresh with love and care.

“The secret to our poke is the secret to everything. … It’s such a cliché to say you love what you do, but that’s the truth. Because when you really love what you do, your mind just races every single day, non-stop, and then you’re always going to find a way. When people say you can’t do something or you’re just thinking about the same problem over and over and over and over, … you’re going to find all kinds of ways to conquer it,” Ryan Ching said.

The technique of adding the sauce to the fish right before serving it comes from Ryan Ching’s grandfather, he said. He explained he has continued following the example his grandfather set because of his love for his grandfather, who instilled in him that this was the correct way to make poke.

Ryan Ching said his grandfather’s words and the techniques he taught him sank so deeply into his soul that, still today, it influences how he runs his business and makes his poke.

“That’s why I enjoy the things I do, just because I feel like that [the way his grandfather makes poke] was correct. Even though it might not be complete truth, it’s true for me.”

Ryan Ching's grandparents sit behind him as he opens presents of a T-shirt, Super Soaker, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys.

More than just customers

Ryan Ching’s customers praise his poke for tasting fresh and choose his shack over others on the island, said Chesser Cowan, a BYU–Hawaii alumnus from New Zealand.

It is not just the food that keeps customers coming back to Ry’s Poke Shack, Cowan shared, it is the relationships the Chings form with their customers. Cowan is a regular at Ry’s Poke Shack, and he said he loves the freshly made poke and added “the hospitality is above and beyond.”

He said one of his friends is another regular customer at Ry’s Poke Shack and has formed a good relationship with the Chings. He even has his own secret menu item.

Khannie Ching said, “We are so proud of our poke and relationships with our customers.” She continued, “Ryan [Ching] has had a lot of belief in me and always makes me feel like we are making a difference in what we do. We are so thankful for each other and our poke business.”