GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After five years in business, a popular spot for poke is closing in Grand Rapids’ East Hills neighborhood.
Wikiwiki Poke Shop owner Keith Allard announced his decision on Facebook Tuesday.
“i’m not sure if our current problems started in wuhan or mark zuckerberg’s dorm room, but i do know the cumulative effect is that every day we move a little farther away from the wild creative atmosphere that motivated me to start wikiwiki. this is not a result of a lack of support, as you folks have been tremendous. i simply fear that continuing in this current economic environment will result in these products ceasing to resemble the benchmark for quality i’ve tried to exceed for five years,” he stated on Facebook.
Allard told News 8 he decided to close a little while ago and he wants to go out on a high note before supply chain issues reduce the quality of the goods he can get.
“I think I created beautiful products that brought people together and I want it to be remembered for that,” he said. “These dishes are very personal to me. Everything I try, I do my best.”
Wikiwiki Poke Shop opened at 1146 Wealthy St. SE in December 2017. The restaurant started with menu of salads, poke bowls and oysters, but trimmed down to 15 poke bowl options over time. When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Grand Rapids, Wikiwiki Poke shifted to takeout service only, offered free kids bowls to students who were out of school for a time and closed for a few weeks.
When the business reopened, it remained takeout service only, announcing last June the cause had shifted from the pandemic to solely a lack of staffing.
Allard said Wednesday sticking to takeout was the “best decision I made… we could focus on the food.”
Allard continued by outlining some of the problems facing the restaurant industry, including spiking prices for goods, government assistance he says essentially went to landlord and vendors, and worker exploitation.
“nobody wants to work in these jobs anymore. I don’t blame them. I’ve been at my restaurant every single minute we’ve been open the past two years and I can’t believe the (expletive) we’ve seen,” he wrote.
He also pointed to the challenges with third-party delivery services that take a 30% bite out of food sales. He said delivery platforms like DoorDash and Grubhub have added restaurants to their platforms without permission, forcing the restaurants to fulfill an order that comes in from their app.
“somehow the company and their drivers make more from that food than the people who actually made it,” he said.
Allard pointed out that even the “order online” link for Wikiwiki Poke Shop’s listing on Google sends customers to third party delivery services instead of directly to the restaurant’s site.
He said he has gone to “extreme measures” to keep the restaurant running and pumping out the same high-quality poke bowls he started with, but “I don’t see the next couple years as being profitable like before (the pandemic).”
Allard said he thinks a lot of people spent the past two years on the internet and are now on edge.
“The way people engage with social media doesn’t allow for an honest discussion about the issues we’re facing,” he said.
“I’m really scared to operate a business in the environment going forward. That’s my number one reason (for closing),” he said.
Despite the challenges, Allard said he has been “profoundly moved to hear what wiki has meant to my customers, and those memories will bring me great joy for the rest of my life.”
Allard says Wikiwiki Poke Shop will remain open until late May, based on stock. He said he plans to take a nap and take stock of how the world has changed after the business closes, “but after that there will be a wikiwiki-sized hole in my heart and schedule.”