Flint, MI — Six years, one pandemic and a host of “almost ready!” announcements later, Flint’s newest eatery, The Poke Bowl, opened its doors on Aug. 31, 2023.

“Finally!” joked Janie Kipper to co-owner Jeron Dotson as he rang up her “Islander” bowl at the fast-casual restaurant’s grand opening.

Topped with sweet coconut, granola, bananas, strawberries and sunflower butter, Kipper had chosen a blended dragon fruit base that gave her overall bowl a bright magenta hue.

Between bites on the space’s patio area, she told Flint Beat she poked fun at Dotson, but she was actually thrilled to see him and his brother, Justin Bush, finally able to open. 

“I’m their mother’s best friend, so I’ve known them since they were little guys,” she explained of her candor.

Jeron Dotson packs orders into bags during the grand opening of The Poke Bowl in Flint, Mich. on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. (Michael Indriolo | Flint Beat)
Justin Bush drops cucumbers into a poke bowl during the grand opening of The Poke Bowl in Flint, Mich. on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. (Michael Indriolo | Flint Beat)

Kipper added that she was glad the pair decided to expand out from just poke, a Hawaiian marinated raw fish and rice dish, to fruit-based bowls as well.

“I’m not much into sushi and stuff, but when they announced their acai bowls, I was in,” she said. “I think it’s good for Flint. Totally different than what anybody else has. And I’ve seen other bowls around, but nothing that compares to what I’ve seen them do with their bowls. So I’m very proud of them after all these years.”

Those years were a theme throughout the brothers’ own remarks on opening day, too. 

Before dozens of supporters, the pair recapped their path from learning of poke on a trip to California and their first pitch to investors in August 2017, to selling bowls at local grocery stores and now standing at the ribbon cutting for their brick-and-mortar space on University Avenue.

“This has been a crazy, crazy journey,” Bush said, sporting a big smile and an anime-covered apron. “I’m just forever grateful for everybody involved.”

Jeron Dotson and Justin Bush pose for a photo during the grand opening of The Poke Bowl in Flint, Mich. on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. (Michael Indriolo | Flint Beat)

And many of those involved also spoke at during the ribbon cutting ceremony, including the founders of Flint Soup, Adrian Montague and James Shuttleworth, whom the brothers have called their mentors; Tom Hutchison of Genesee County Habitat for Humanity, which built and owns the live/work space in which The Poke Bowl now operates; and Tiffany Bernethy of Metro Community Development, who helped Dotson and Bush get funding at pivotal times over their years-long build out.

“I tell everybody that I pursued Poke Bowl selfishly,” Bernethy told the crowd, noting that dietary restrictions usually limit what she can eat at restaurants. “I actually can walk in there, and there’s nothing on their menu that I can’t have. I’ve never experienced that in my life.”

The commercial lender went on to commend Bush and Dotson on being “eager to learn” and returning to her when they were ready for their lending process.

“The work was them,” she said. “I just was there with the tools to back them up when they were ready to be receptive.”

As for Dotson and Bush, the pair told Flint Beat they were looking forward to welcoming customers and sharing their story and food after delays kept them from opening in 2021, as originally announced.

“It’s one thing to tell people, ‘oh we’re going to do this and do this,’ but like, you’re here now,” Dotson said, gesturing around to the space’s neon signage, foliage wall and tiki-style countertop.

Jeron Dotson adds sliced strawberries into an acai bowl during the grand opening of The Poke Bowl in Flint, Mich. on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. (Michael Indriolo | Flint Beat)

Both shared that their road to opening day had not been easy, filled with financing struggles, a pandemic and construction setbacks, but they hope others now see that all dreams are possible with determination.

“Anything worth having is worth working for,” Bush said. “You hear that so many times, ‘just put your mind to it and you can do anything,’ but you really can… The only thing we did different was put the work in.”

The Poke Bowl is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It is located at 1214 University Avenue in Flint.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....

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