How does a small business go from a single-unit restaurant to a successful emerging franchisor in less than a year? Fen Reyes — and an on-point leadership team — that’s how.
As the CEO and Founder of Uncle Sharkii Poke Bar, Fen Reyes co-founded the brand with her husband Raymond Reyes in 2018 after a family gathering overseas, where their daughter Melody received the gift of a plush shark from an uncle she had never met before. Only a year later, they opened their flagship store in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Not long after, they were bitten by the franchising bug. They started franchising the concept of Uncle Sharkii in winter 2019.
When they saw explosive gains after the grand opening of their small poke concept, Reyes recognized the opportunity for what it was — a nationally applicable phenomenon full of scalability, profitability, and flexibility. Leveraging her sharp business acumen, years of experience, and creative flair, Reyes joined her husband in propelling their healthy fast-casual concept into a true emerging brand with a national and international focus.
Born and raised in China, Reyes got hands-on experience right away with the various businesses that her family owned throughout the decades. She grew up helping her father and laying the foundation for her career later in life.
Her curiosity for new experiences and world exploration inspired her to travel to the US and pursue her higher education. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance and made a name for herself with her trademark tenacity and keen business sense, which she further honed during her time as a manager for several large restaurants in Southern California.
Later when she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, she progressed into owning her own restaurant, serving desserts and sidelining Poke Bowls. The husband-wife duo did great, but what they discovered was the Poke Bowls were becoming a very sustainable and profitable food offering at their restaurant. That is when Reyes made the decision to make the food offering of Hawaiian Poke more explosive and simpler. The overhead, fixed costs, and running her last restaurant led her to create something that was easier for mom and pops to step in the door. “When we owned our previous restaurant, it was extremely hard with no guidance. We had a dream to create an opportunity that would provide for other mom and pops to step into the business and realize their dreams of opening their own restaurant,” stated Reyes.
Finally, the Reyes team discovered their calling in Uncle Sharkii Poke Bar. This was the answer to bring all these newly minted entrepreneurs into business, by giving them guidance, training, and support in opening their own restaurants. According to Reyes, since they had been in their shoes and knew how it felt to not have any mentors or guidance in opening a business, they were focused on changing the experience for new business owners.
“It’s scary and we wanted to take out some of the guesswork and let our partners that join our franchise know that we are there for them,” stated Reyes. “Sometimes that is all it takes to get people off the ground and realizing their entrepreneurial dreams. They just need to have that backing.”
This thought process was foundational in Uncle Sharkii’s family-like feel — Ohana. Fen wanted to make the business simple. Hence Poke Bowls Made Simple! “Simplicity is the Key when it comes to a Post-Pandemic World. So why not focus the concept on Simplicity and making things simple to realize better profit margins thru controlling overhead and fixed costs,” stated Reyes.
It’s this unique combination of experience and intuition that makes Reyes a capable leader, a sharp-eyed businesswoman, and a strategic thinker. She brings all of that and more to her role as CEO of Uncle Sharkii Poke Bar. She shares her husband’s passion for bringing authentic, healthy Hawaiian food with a Californian twist to people everywhere.
Reyes has been able to strategically position the brand’s two flagship stores, located in the San Francisco Bay Area and Waikiki, Hawaii, for all the world to see.
“Having our corporate flagship stores in these major international cities brings Uncle Sharkii Poke Bar to the world stage,” Reyes said. “Just like when we started with our founding motto of Food. Family. Simplicity, we’re able to promote a culture of Ohana with our customers, our employees, and franchisee partners. The feeling is mutual and everlasting with our beliefs. We are proud to say that our brand was one of the only few on the market to be helmed by a true local boy, who was born and raised in Hawaii and lived the Hawaiian lifestyle, and a seasoned businesswoman with international connections that transcend countries’ borders while seeking a truly Sharkii fairytale.”
With signed franchise contracts in several states, Uncle Sharkii Poke Bar is gaining ground quickly in the fast-growing poke market. The brand stands out not only because of Fen Reyes’ acumen, Raymond Reyes’ heritage, and the quality of its food but because of its story.
Food. Family. Simplicity is powerful in forging connections and commemorating the little moments in life. It was this bond that became the brand’s beating heart and drumline when it came to sharing their company’s lifestyle with deep roots in Hawaiian heritage.
They’ve maintained their family focus ever since. Uncle Sharkii Poke Bar is a brand designed to uplift and inspire, and that’s exactly what it does through its creative, delicious menu and playful branding.
The journey to get here hasn’t always been easy. Reyes knows just how challenging it can be to run an emerging brand. She acknowledges the misconceptions surrounding new brands and is determined to turn them on their head, demonstrating through her own mature, confident leadership. “There are some ways to overcome [these misconceptions] and simply this is plain grit and determination,” she says. “Having prior experience in the Financial Industry and most importantly owning my own restaurant, running the day-to-day operations, even when I was pregnant really gave rise to me being a woman entrepreneur and finding myself and learning how to have the extra edge on overcoming these challenges.”
Fen and Raymond Reyes have proven that they’re up for a challenge. Uncle Sharkii Poke Bar is flourishing under their expert care and is sure to blossom as a result of their vision. Their dynamic QSR brand has a versatility that makes it well-suited to many different markets, from standalone restaurants to food courts to airports.
Together, they’ve grown from their mom-and-pop beginnings without sacrificing any of the heart, authenticity, and creativity that went into the founding of the brand in the first place. Many poke brands tout themselves as Hawaiian-inspired, with origin stories that start during a trip to Hawaii and end with bringing the food as a souvenir back to their hometown. Uncle Sharkii Poke Bar, however, was created by entrepreneurs with real, authentic roots in Hawaiian culture and heritage – not to mention a spark of international business acumen.
To learn more about joining the Uncle Sharkii Ohana as a franchise partner and diving into your own entrepreneurial experience, visit www.unclesharkii.com.
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