Tuesday, September 3, 2019

[EXCLUSIVE] Poke Gives Way to Ponko in Buckhead

Poke eatery Poke Nooke in north Buckhead has closed after about nineteen months in business.  The restaurant, located in a 1,200 square foot space in the Publix-anchored Chastain Square shopping center, opened February 6, 2018, and closed as of August 29, 2019.  The restaurant, which occupied a corner space behind Swoozies, will not stay vacant for long, with signage indicating it will soon reopen as a PONKO Chicken franchise.  Poke Nooke owners Alex & Linda Lam will own the new venture under a franchise agreement with PONKO.
The new PONKO Chicken opens in a center adjacent to a popular Chick-fil-A, across the street from a Zaxby's and down the road from a Popeyes.  PONKO promotes its chicken as "small batch" and "antibiotic free," but does cost more than typical fast food.  That said, the chicken has proven quite popular with consecutive wins in 2017 and 2018 for "Best Selling Taste" at Taste of Atlanta.   

Fast casual eatery PONKO Chicken, with two locations open and others planned, describes itself as an "Ameri-Asian" restaurant, where "eats meets west."  The restaurant is most well known for their chicken tenders, but also caters to vegans and vegetarians by also providing tofu tenders and vegan patties as well as vegan and vegetarian sides.

In 1998, sisters Reiko Clark and Maggie Antoine opened Food Ease on Stone Mountain Highway in Stone Mountain.  The restaurant developed a following around Antoine’s panko crusted, sweet soy sauce drizzled “Amer-Asian chicken tenders.” Eventually they changed the name to PONKO Chicken, but after the economy tanked in 2008, they closed the restaurant.

In 2017, Dr. Patrick Sallarulo invested in the business and opened a Chamblee restaurant that October.  The Chamblee location basically reflected a completely new identity for the concept with branding and design to match.  In 2018, the concept, still with just the one location, started franchising.  The first franchise, owned by Johnny Esposito Jr. (son of the founder of Buckhead landmark Johnny's Hideaway) and business partner Shane Godfrey, opened this past April on West Peachtree Street in Midtown, replacing Mulavi Mediterranean Kitchen in the ground floor of the Alta apartment building. 

In July, the company announced that Kaitlyn Sallarulo, daughter of Dr. Patrick Sallarulo, CEO and Chairman of PONKO Franchise Corporation, will become the second franchisee, with her upcoming location at the Marietta Square Market, just off the square in Marietta.  

A release announcing the Marietta location said "PONKO Franchise Corporation currently has agreements to open over 20 stores in various locations throughout the Atlanta Metropolitan Area."  

A source familiar with the restaurant's plans tells ToNeTo Atlanta that the Buckhead location should open by the end of September, with the Marietta location expected to open by the end of October. 
Founders Maggie Antoine and Reiko Clark at the Chamblee PONKO
Have you ever been to PONKO Chicken?  Where would you like to see PONKO Chicken open next?  What is your favorite place for chicken tenders?

Please share your thoughts below.  


Anonymous said...

Ponko chicken is delicious. I have been a loyal fan of the Chamblee location since they opened. They will do well as long as they choose their locations wisely and don't try to grow to big too fast.

Anonymous said...

Would someone PLEASE bring Bonchon Chicken to East Cobb!! Delicious!

Greenwave said...

Ponko is pretty damn good. I just hope that they can stay open in this location. That location has been terrible for restaurants starting with Burger 21.

Unknown said...

I had them cater my celebration with a taco bar. There was nothing left at the end of my party. Everyone LOVED the ponko chichen and esp. the different sauces. Ponko Chicken helped make my party a success. Cant wait for the Marietta location to open.

Anonymous said...

Best chicken tenders EVER!!! Please open in Dunwoody.

Anonymous said...

OK so I checked out Ponko based on these posts. The actual chicken tender is great however the sides are ordinary and the service was horrible. I think they have a good concept getting incubates but they have to work on the customer service and the cleanliness there was absolutely no Coke the entire machine was broken there was no Tea or anything and what I find appalling there is no Ramp or disabled access whatsoever let alone to the bathroom which is down a large flight of like 20 stairs? But even to the restaurant itself there is only access they are steps there’s no ramp whatsoever - how misguided.

Anonymous said...

I've been a fan of their flavor since the 90's off HWY 78 Stn Mtn. Been to the Chamblee and Midtown locations several times. I wish the brand would come back to the Stn Mtn / Lilburn / Tucker / Decatur area. Pls

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