The Power of Poke
I spoke with Ben Brady, the General Manager of Miko Poke and Everly in Madison, WI. He told me all about Miko Poke's compostable packaging, sustainable seafood sourcing, and his career in the food industry.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and what led you to become general manager at Miko Poke.
Ben: In eighth grade I got my first job as a busser at Lake Ripley Country Club, and I've worked in restaurants ever since--through college, during the summers when I was teaching, etc. I started with Food Fight when Cento opened, where I worked as a part-time server and bartender. After a couple years, I had taken on more responsibilities and was promoted to Assistant General Manager, and after about six months was asked to move over to Monroe Street to open Miko Poke (and our sister restaurant, Everly.)
Can you explain how the seafood you use is sustainably sourced and why it was important for Miko Poke to do things this way?
Ben: All of our tuna comes frozen, which actually helps with global sustainability. Product is able to be distributed around the globe rather than regionally, which helps prevent overfishing in other areas. Because of the small cubes of raw fish, poke uses a lot of the smaller pieces of tuna that might otherwise be thrown away. Our salmon comes from a facility that has been BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices) certified. This certification is quite rigorous and focuses heavily on sustainability and maintaining the environment surrounding the aquaculture while also allowing the wild salmon population to thrive.
I love how your packaging is compostable! I think it's important for consumers to understand the difference between compostable and biodegradable, so could you tell me about your packaging and the difference between those two concepts?
Ben: Without going into too much detail, composting is essentially accelerated biodegradation. It took us a long time to find the right packaging for Miko. We knew we wanted a bowl, but it took a lot of digging to find something that wouldn't shrivel up due to the warm rice. Then, we had to look into compostable bags and utensils. Our packaging is technically only compostable in an industrial composting facility.
A key part of having compostable packaging is having the facilities to actually compost it. You recently started composting again after the City of Madison's CORE program ended. Can you tell me about that process?
Ben: We were really upset when the CORE program ended. Our staff is passionate about sustainability and the environment (they happily go through our trash to make sure no errant cups or chopsticks get thrown in the compost bin) , so we knew we had to find a new service. It took some digging, but I finally found a program through Sanimax. We had to get landlord approval, move a giant CO2 tank (for the second time), and more before it would work. It's more expensive for us as well. However, that extra expense pales in comparison to the benefit we think it provides to the environment.
Regarding the CORE program, I also have some potentially good news: the city is applying for a grant through the EPA for funding for a feasibility study for an anaerobic digester specifically for handling food scraps. Dane County is currently building a new facility on their landfill campus, and it's my hope that they will make a commitment to better sustainability practices.
What are some other sustainable practices you're implementing at Miko Poke? Or what are some practices you wish you saw more of in restaurants?
Ben: A lot of it is about the little things: we have signs everywhere to remind staff to turn off lights, our kitchen staff is careful with their water usage, etc. We also will be switching to paper straws as soon as we go through our current case (which we've been sitting on for a very long time--we just don't go through many straws!). Some of our scraps are also used in Everly's cocktail program, which we are trying to move towards low- or zero-waste. Finally, we offer 10% off to anyone who bikes to the restaurants.
If people want to learn more about Miko Poke or try your food, where can people find you (IRL or online)?
Ben: We're located at 2701 Monroe Street. If you don't feel like making the drive, no worries! We're happy to deliver to you via Eatstreet or Uber Eats. You can find out more (or place your order) here: mikopoke.com. Don't forget to follow us on Instagram and Facebook: @mikopoke.
[All photos courtesy of Miko Poke]