Brandon Cohanim isn’t your average 21-year-old SMU undergrad. When he’s not hitting the books, he’s running two sushi restaurants in Dallas: Pok The Raw Bar and Namo.
Pok The Raw Bar opened in Uptown in 2017 and offers poke bowls to Dallas locals. Following the success of Pok, Cohanim opened Namo, a 20-seat hand roll sushi bar, next-door to Pok. For this young restaurateur, Nano is on track to the same success as Pok.
What inspired you to get into the restaurant scene?
I noticed that poke was becoming so popular in LA. When I moved three years ago to go to SMU, I realized Dallas didn’t have many healthy food choices and I thought to myself, “What if I open a poke restaurant?” So, I met a chef who helped me create the menu, I found the location, and it all came together in less than six months.
My whole life, I’ve always loved food. My family travels a lot so getting to experience the different culinary styles and dishes around the world really impacted me. Opening up a restaurant was definitely something I always wanted to do, and with Pok I saw a great opportunity.
How did you learn to open and operate restaurants?
I’m a strong believer that the best way to learn is to do it. I don’t think you can be taught to operate a restaurant, so that’s exactly what I did. I wanted to open a restaurant so badly and I was willing to put everything into it.
I worked a lot, and learned every single aspect of the business, and now no one knows my brands better than I do. I wanted to relay that to my employees. I worked to understand how each of the positions in my restaurants functioned and put myself in their shoes, so I could guide them in the right direction.
Were there setbacks related to your age in terms of financing or management?
With any new challenge, people make mistakes here and there, so with that, I’ve made a point to learn from each of them. Regarding my age, it hasn’t caused any major setbacks because I don’t let it. My employees respect me as they would a regular CEO because of the passion and drive I have for each of my restaurants and employees.
What have been the biggest obstacles you’ve faced opening Pok and Namo?
Learning to work with and manage all different types of people. We have 45 team members between both restaurants who each have different work ethics and personalities.
What do you hope Namo brings to the Dallas scene?
The best quality food for the best price… Namo also brings a different vibe to Dallas, especially compared to Pok. Pok is really upbeat and friendly, while Namo has a warmer, darker, intimate atmosphere, [however] both bring a friendly and comfortable culture. Coming from LA, I want to bring some of the LA vibe, and create something that’s more hip. I think Dallas has reacted really well to that.
Have you seen changes to the Dallas restaurant scene, and where is it going next?
When I came to Dallas three years ago, I was going to the same five restaurants every week. Since then, many new restaurants have opened and the food scene’s really evolved. I also think that there are more young people opening restaurants, which is awesome because they’re bringing new, fresh ideas.
A great example of that is Chaz at The Charles in the Design District, which is something new, hip, fun, and he’s killing it right now. There are a lot more individuals like him in Dallas starting to open restaurants and I really like that, so I think that it’s going in a good direction.
What are your big goals in life?
I would love to open more restaurants, and grow Pok and Namo. I really want to develop certain areas and put my own concepts in place. I think food brings people together… and that’s what I really want to do.
Cover photo courtesy Namo
Alex Temblador is a novelist and travel writer based in Dallas. Her work has appeared in outlets including Oyster, Matador Network, Culture Trip and the Huffington Post. @alextemblador