Josh Schade isn’t quite sure what’s next, but he knows it will involve fishing.
Schade and his girlfriend, Erika Luna, closed the acclaimed Ahi Assassins poke shop in Moiliili on June 14.
“Josh and Erika put all of their heart into everything they do,” said Kenny Amazaki, who once owned a phone repair business two doors down.
“They’re two good local people trying their best to succeed. They’ve always been good mentors to my son — (Kasyn, 12), pushed him to go to school and stay in school.”
Schade and Luna built a brand based on freshness and authenticity. “The fish we use is the fish we’re catching, our friends and family are catching, locally,” Schade said. “We pride ourselves on using fresh, local fish.”
They started a couple of days a week serving fish Schade had caught the same morning. The business grew and they built a hui of fishermen to provide enough fish to keep the product fresh and allow a daily operation to meet increasing demand.
Their team is like a family, everyone understanding the concept of working hard for each other, especially during lean times.
But, as were other businesses, Ahi Assassins was hit hard by the pandemic. Regardless of the quality of the product and the relentless spunk of the owners and employees, many folks consider a fresh poke bowl a luxury, at least for now.
“Retail poke is such a gamble now,” Schade said. “Our parents told us we were crazy to open a poke place (in 2013) when there were already 300 places you can get poke in Honolulu. Initially, we were the small guy and could undercut the competition. As our following grew we continued to uphold our standard. It’s become cost-prohibitive to keep it going due to COVID-19.”
Ahi Assassins considers this a temporary setback.
They had to give up their spot at Hawaii’s Favorite Kitchens (affiliated with Rainbow Drive-In), but are in talks to possibly rejoin that collective of food stands. They’re also continuing to cater and ship poke to mainland customers.
“We have a box going to Las Vegas now,” Schade said. “There’s a lot of gamble with that. You’re putting your fish in the hand of a shipper.”
He’s also considering a “poke boat” concept, described as “a lunch truck on a trailer, but it’s a fishing boat.” Since they live in Kahaluu and have a processing location in Kaneohe, the poke boat, as Schade envisions it, would serve rural Oahu.
“We’re learning to adapt to the world post COVID-19, and it’s not even post COVID-19 yet,” he said.
Ahi Assassins is a classic underdog success story; less than a decade ago, Schade, now 31, was a kid going door-to-door selling the fish he’d caught.
“Ultimately, we did this because we didn’t want to work for someone else,” said Schade, a third-generation fisherman. “The reality is you work for everyone; customers, employees, landlord. But we’ll come out of it smarter, stronger.”
He added: “This is not the hardest thing that came at me. I’m lucky to be here to tell the story.”
Ahi Assassins is still available for catering and special orders. Call 372-2930.