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Brand You Magazine > Exclusive Interviews  > The Woman Behind The Multi-Million Global Brand -Interview with Vittoria Zanetti

The Woman Behind The Multi-Million Global Brand -Interview with Vittoria Zanetti


“We always had a very clear vision for the brand and kew exactly what we wanted”


The origins of Poke House were born amongst the California sand, surf and sunshine, and is a brand based on the belief that feeling good starts from within. Launched in Milan in November 2018 from the dream of two friends to bring a slice of naturally inspired, feel-good West Coast philosophy to every city through a young and innovative restaurant format, their poke chain has since enjoyed incredible success and is one of the fastest growing foodtech scale-ups in Europe and the UK.  We asked co-founder and executive director, Vittoria Zanetti, to tell us how it all began.

Hi Vittoria, there’s a lot of media interest around Poke House, but actually very little about the woman behind the brand. Can you tell us a bit about your background? 

Of course! I come from an incredibly beautiful, small town in the north of Italy called Mantua with some of the most stunning architecture in the country. Its historical buildings and the town’s markets definitely inspired me growing up. Like any teenager, I craved exploring and wanted to find a new city to call home. I made the move to Milan to study Political Science and International Relations at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore – easily the best move of my life. Being in Milan allowed me to discover so many new foods, flavours and cultures. I spent my entire time in the city soaking up as much as I could, igniting a new passion and appreciation within me for food; the way it can change your mood, bring people together and allow you to explore far-flung destinations from the comfort of your own home.


“It was love at first sight! I knew I had to bring this dish back to Italy.”


What happened next?  

While at university, I jumped at the chance to study in the United States and explored new cities across Florida and California, where I spent time in the surfing paradise of San Diego: it was love at first sight. The chilled approach to life, the focus on happiness over anything else and the abundance of natural, fresh produce caught my attention straight away. San Diego is where I first tried ‘poke’ for myself and was captivated by the wide variety of flavours. I knew I had to bring this dish back to Italy so everyone could experience what I had, and that marked the beginning of Poke House as we know it today. My time in the US reinforced my belief that healthy living is an important and achievable goal and one that I am eager to share with others.


“I wanted to build a brand and share my love of food, whilst he wanted to build a company that would create an impact.”


What is poke, how do you pronounce it and what did you do to turn it into a business back home?

A poke bowl (pronounced po-kay) is typically based on raw fish, layered up with sticky rice and a variety of veg. But, as it has become more popular, the bowl has been adapted from its Hawaiian origins, creating alternatives to suit everyone. After returning to Milan, I worked in restaurants to get industry experience and it was here I reconnected with an old friend, Matteo. We realised we both had similar dreams: me wanting to build a brand and share my love of food, whilst he, through his background in finance, wanted to build a big company that would create an impact. In November 2018, we opened our first Poke House in a pop-up style kitchen in Milan. Its success is what really drove both of us to work hard on building the brand,  who we wanted to appeal to and, ultimately, what it meant to be a part of the Poke House family.


Were you clear on your brand vision right from the start, or has it developed as you’ve grown globally? 

We always had a very clear vision for the brand and knew exactly what we wanted; to create a unique space in every city that captures the lively and vibrant atmosphere of California, incorporating natural elements like wood and straw to create a warm and inviting atmosphere, where people can enjoy good music, colourful surroundings and healthy food. We reached out to an interior designer friend who helped us bring the vision to life and craft a cohesive visual identity that aligned with our mission of “Nourishing the World.” Our brand values (think big, work hard with passion, win together, be honest, stay humble, and positivity) guide us in everything we do and ensure that our brand remains consistent. 

No matter where in the world you experience Poke House, you’ll always get the Sunny California vibe. While our vision hasn’t changed, our menu has since that very first pop-up. As we’ve grown across Europe, we’ve worked hard as a team to develop new flavours to appeal to every palate, from our more traditional house bowls to seasonal bowls such as the Seakiss which we launched in the autumn last year centred around octopus. Developing each new bowl and sourcing new ingredients for our customers has always inspired me and keeps me focused on our goal to expand globally.


“Our vision remains the same across all markets, but we have to adapt our menus to accommodate different tastes.”


You now have restaurants in all cities across Italy and branches in the USA, Europe and the UK.  British taste buds are quite varied. How have you managed to adapt your brand to the different culinary preferences in each country?

With any brand entering a new market, one of the main challenges we’ve faced has been building trust and engagement outside of our home market. This has required patience and persistence, as it takes time to educate people about the benefits of eating differently and to persuade them to try new things.  We never make any major changes to our brand and our vision remains the same across all markets, but we have had to adapt our menus to accommodate different tastes and preferences, such as larger portions and sauces in the US and UK, or the preference for natural, fresh flavours and raw ingredients in mainland Europe.  Of all the countries we have expanded to, the UK has probably been the most difficult in terms of catering to local tastes and preferences, but we’re committed to continuing to learn and adapt to promote healthy living for all.


Who are your main global competitors?

Given our market, Poke House doesn’t really fit within the fast food market, other than the fact you can enjoy poke on the go or sit down for a speedy lunch if needed. So while there may be other options available, none of them truly compare to what we offer in terms of quality and the overall customer experience. We believe that this commitment sets us apart from the competition and makes us truly unique in the fast food market. 


“When we started, around 80% of our purchases came through delivery and the other 20% were in-house customers.”


Yours is very much a data-driven brand.  How do you use it to add value to your customer experience?

Technology plays a significant role in our business model and we use it in a variety of ways to improve the customer experience and streamline our operations. Through analysing our data and customer needs, we gain insights into customer behaviour and preferences, allowing us to make informed decisions about how we can optimise the customer experience and provide the best possible service. When we started, around 80% of our purchases came through delivery and the other 20% were in-house customers. This meant that ensuring our fresh food was delivered on time was of utmost importance. But in recent years, the ratio has become more balanced, with about 50% of orders now being for in-house dining. 



How do you nurture your community of Poke House lovers?

We’re always looking for new and innovative ways to engage with our customers and provide them with an enjoyable experience. One of the ways is through our loyalty scheme – the Poke House Squad. This rewards scheme allows us to provide exclusive perks and discounts for our loyal squad members, encouraging them to keep returning for poke, no matter the weather. We also offer a range of workshops, events and activities that are designed to be educational, inspiring and fun. We recently ran classes on how to make your own Poke Bowl at home, as well as yoga and sports sessions designed to promote physical wellness and mental clarity. 

Have you got any new plans for 2023?

I’m constantly brainstorming ways to make healthy food available throughout the day, not just at lunchtime, and to create a sense of familiarity and comfort for our customers. I see poke becoming a staple of any diet, almost like a healthier version of McDonald’s, with a strong and recognisable brand that is associated with convenient, delicious and healthy meals. Whether you’re in Miami, Milan, London or Lisbon, I want people to know exactly what they can expect when they walk into a Poke House, and to feel confident that they’re making a good choice for their health and wellbeing.

Tell us your secret. How do you manage to juggle a work-life balance with such a busy and demanding job, and having an eight- month old baby too?

I absolutely love what I do and wake up every morning excited about the day ahead! Yes, we’ve opened 130 restaurants, but there’s always more to do and that keeps me going. Luckily, I consider myself to be a grounded and level-headed person and am fortunate to have a supportive husband who understands the challenges of building a business. We make a conscious effort to prioritise our family time when we’re at home by turning off our mobile phones and putting work aside when we are together in the evenings. This helps us to recharge and refocus so we can give our full attention and energy to our family. It’s not always easy, especially with the demands of running a business, but it’s an important part of ensuring that we’re happy, healthy and fulfilled, both personally and professionally.


Interview by Olivia Marocco – founder of Brand You Magazine

Vittoria Zanetti – founder of Poke House

Co-founder and executive director of Poke House, launched three years ago and with 120 stores in Europe and the US, Vittoria dreams of bringing a taste of California and its authentic poke bowls to every corner of the world.

Website: poke-house.com/en-uk/

Instagram: @pokehouse_official




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