I first met Jeff and Brenda Sproat — the owners of the brand new Island Fin Poké Co. located on the New Tampa side of County Line Rd. (next to LA Fitness) — when Jeff and I both coached our sons in what used to be called the New Tampa Little League (NTLL) at what is now called the North East Sports Complex/Eber Baseball fields off Cross Creek Blvd. Jeff was generally one of the calmer, more disciplined coaching dads in the NTLL at the time. I…wasn’t.

Even so, Jeff and I pretty much always got along and Brenda was always smiling and friendly, even after a tough game for either team.

I hadn’t spoken at all with the Sproats, except for the few times we’d run into each other at a local restaurant or store, since those Little League days, before Brenda called to tell me about their new business venture. She was excited that Island Fin was getting ready to open — they were maybe three months off at the time — and said she was hoping I could  help them promote their new eatery to residents on both sides of the county line.

“Have you ever had a poké bowl?,” she asked me. And I answered that not only did I enjoy the still-emerging (at least in this part of Florida) “quick casual” poké bowl concept, sushi-grade tuna has, for more than two decades — and likely always will be — an important  part of my life. And, the fact, as Brenda was quick to point out, that Island Fin Poké Co. is so much more than just tuna poké couldn’t possibly be a bad thing.

First, A Little History…

According to IslandFinPoke.com, the Island Fin Poké Co. can trace its roots back to when founders Mark Setterington was the GM and Paul Reas was the bar manager at the Bahama Breeze in Orlando in 2004.

Mark moved to Las Vegas in 2007 to “do his own thing” while Paul stayed at Bahama Breeze. The two remained close friends, but it wasn’t until August of 2016, after Paul quit his job at Bahama Breeze, that the two started working on a concept together. Their objectives were to come up with a concept with incredible food and remarkable service that would be super easy to replicate. 

Mark was running ten restaurants in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but the website says his Las Vegas kitchen became “ground zero” for poké. They experimented with sauces, which they felt were important in order for Island Fin to distinguish itself from its competitors in what was already a growing field.

“I really think the sauces are the biggest thing that sets us apart,” Brenda says. “All of the sauces are homemade — and gluten-free, by the way — and each one is a little different, but they’re honestly all delicious. We’ve only been open for a few weeks but we have people coming back again and again to try a new sauce or keep using the same sauce.”

Island Fin’s website also touts the fact that the concept features the freshest, locally sourced ingredients, farm-to-fork freshness and some unique proteins, including octopus. 

Jeff and Brenda brought in a familiar face — their son Jason (a darn good ballplayer, as was his brother Adam) — to manage the location, since they no longer live in this area themselves. But, no matter who serves you when you visit, the employees are all friendly, knowledgeable and most people who dine in are in-and-out in just a few minutes.

“The bowls and everything we sell are at a great price point,” says Jeff, ever the business side of the biz. “And the food, honestly, is outstanding.

So, How Does It Work?

As with most quick casual poké bowl places, you start at one end of a line and tell your “technician” what you want to add as you assemble your bowl.

You start with a base — white or brown rice, mixed field greens or you can combine them. You then add your well-marinated poké protein — from salmon, octopus, chicken, Spam, tofu or my favorites — ahi and spicy ahi tuna. Combos are OK, too. 

Crab Bowl.

Next, choose your veggie mix-ins — edamame, corn, sweet onions and jalapeños. Then, you add your sauce — shoyu (soy), ponzu (citrus soy), OG (with jalapeños), Island Fin Fire (with cilantro and habañero), or Wicked Wahine (sweet and hot). I haven’t yet tried them all, but Brenda says the Island Fin Fire is the hottest. I’m currently stuck on the OG sauce. It sets a great flavor base for everything else you add…

…Because wait, there’s still more! In addition to the mix-ins, there are the following toppings — chili flakes, chili oil, crispy garlic, crispy onions, green onions, furikake (a fish-based topping), fresh pineapple and mango, cucumber, pickled and spicy pickled veggies, pineapple & mango salsa, wasabi peas, pickled ginger, seaweed salad and of course, black and white sesame seeds. For $1 more, you can add premium toppings like avocado, surimi (some call it imitation or “k”-crab), macadamia nuts or masago (salmon-family fish eggs, or roe). 

One thing I will say is that even though Island Fin also has a variety of “finishing” sauces — avocado, wasabi, togarashi (hot sauce) and Jamaican cream — I don’t really need anything else on my fresh and delicious bowl, although a lot of Island Fin’s customers love them. Feel free to try them all, if you like, and let me know if you like your bowl better with or without a finishing sauce.

I’m currently stuck on mostly spicy tuna on brown rice and field greens with edamame, corn, OG veggies, spicy and regular pickled veggies, seaweed salad and sesame seeds with OG sauce, but I will try Island Fin Fire and Wicked Wahine soon — probably before this issue reaches your mailbox. Your cost for any of these bowls? Just $11!

And, as a reward for all that healthy eating, you should finish your meal with whatever flavors of Dole Whip Island Fin is serving that day. To date, I’ve sampled the pineapple and the vanilla and although I disagreed with Jeff that the non-dairy vanilla tasted “just like frozen yogurt or soft-serve ice cream,” it doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s delicious and the cup is big enough for two to share (at least in my opinion, even though I’ve yet to share it).

“Dole Whip is the biggest thing at Disney,” Brenda says. “People have driven a long way because they heard we had it. It’s really refreshing.”

Agreed. And, although there are canned soft drinks (even La Croix sparkling water and Perrier), the only thing that could make my meal better at Island Fin is an ice cold Red Stripe or other Caribbean beer. Ah, maybe someday. 

Great Catering & Current Offers

Brenda says Island Fin has a great catering menu on the IslandFinPoke.com website and that the local location can accommodate anything from small gatherings to large PTA, sports team and even corporate parties, and she invites everyone to give the restaurant a call to discuss their options.

And, Island Fin currently has a number of great offers to get local residents to come in and try them out. 

First, Brenda’s challenging anyone who snaps a picture in front of the Acme On The Go mobile truck (which the Sproats are parking out in front of the restaurant from time to time) to post it on Island Fin’s social media to receive $3 off your poké bowl.

Speaking of the truck, all you have to do is mention the ad being displayed on the truck and you’ll receive a free Dole Whip (a $4 value!) with the purchase of any bowl. Of course, if the truck isn’t on site when you’re there, you could bring in or mention the coupon in the ad on page 43 of this issue.

And, if you stop in to Island Fin Poké anytime after 4 p.m., you’ll receive a poké bowl and a Dole Whip for only $13 (a $2 savings). 

“We really want people to give us a try,” Brenda says. “Whether you’ve never tried poké before or you’ve tried one or more others, I think there are a lot of good poké places out there, I just think ours is the best.”

“We looked at a lot of different franchises but this is a young franchise with fewer than 20 locations in only a few (seven) states, and we liked the idea of being part of something new, that was still evolving,” Jeff says. “Plus, we’re enjoying getting out in the community to talk about Island Fin.”

Brenda adds, “We also picked Island Fin because we were given a lot of freedom in the look inside our restaurant. We picked a lot of the decorative touches (like the signposts above) ourselves and we’re proud of the way the place looks. Plus, we believe that healthy eating, with fresh food, is here to stay.” 

Island Fin Poké Co. is located at 6417 E. County Line Rd., Suite 101, in New Tampa (zip code 33647), although the location’s Facebook page is “Island Fin Poke Company-Wesley Chapel.”

Brenda says, “We weren’t trying to be controversial when we picked that Facebook page. We know we’re physically in New Tampa, but we believe we’re going to be drawing customers from both sides of the county line. And now, we can’t change that Facebook page.”

Island Fin Poke Co. is open every day, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., and is available on Grubhub, with other delivery services to be added in the future. For more info, call (813) 575-8002, visit IslandFinPoke.com or see the ad (and coupon) in our latest issue.

Recommended Posts

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment