A chain of Hawaiian-themed salad bars called Poked have collapsed, with the directors attributing repeat COVID-19 lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne as the driving factors.
Founded in 2016, Poked Group operates eight restaurants employing about 50 staff, with seven located across Melbourne’s CBD and one on Sydney’s George Street. The restaurants sell customisable salad bowls, including options for people with alternative dietary requirements.
Matthew Kucianski, partner at the solvency firm Worrells, has been appointed to oversee the company’s liquidation process, which he says is “in its infancy”.
“The liquidation of the Poked Group is in its infancy and the underlying reasons for the insolvency will take some time to determine,” Kucianski tells SmartCompany.
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“But the directors attribute the insolvency of the group to the COVID-19 lockdowns,” he adds.
Poked’s eight stores will remain shuttered over at least the summer holiday period, pending the outcome of the liquidation process. The group’s employees have also been stood down.
In the meantime, the owners of Poked are encouraging customers to visit their sister stores at Grazeland in Melbourne, which is a food hall in Spotswood with 50 different vendors. Poked also operates Katsu King, BBL tea, Fat Tony’s and Doughville at Grazeland.
Poked opened its first store five years ago with the intention of bringing the ‘poke craze’ to Australia and offer a healthier type of fast food.
Within two years the company had expanded from one to eight restaurants. But repeat lockdowns in NSW and Victoria emptied cities of office workers, pushing the company to collapse.
Not all of Poked Group’s entities are in liquidation and SmartCompany understands the owners and stakeholders are hopeful that they can restructure some of the group’s businesses.
For the restaurants that are in liquidation, the outcome of the process is yet to be determined.
“The Worrells team is focused on finding a way for the underlying business operations to be salvaged, if at all possible,” Kucianski says.
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SmartCompany understands Poked’s main creditors include the Australian Taxation Office, its landlords and employees, with total tax debts of approximately $1 million.
Businesses could defer rental costs during lockdowns, after the federal government adopted a leasing code of conduct in the early stages of the pandemic.
Both NSW and Victoria enforced the code in 2020 and again in 2021 in response to the Delta outbreak. While each state’s scheme was different, they assisted retail tenants in negotiating lower rent. Applications for the schemes will expire next month in both states.
Throughout 2021, Poked focused on takeaway sales and operated an industrial kitchen in Brunswick East in Melbourne’s inner north. However, delivery sales at that location have also been suspended.
Poked, which describes its menu as “fresh Hawaiian” and promotes the locally sourced produce it uses, including salad from Somerville in Victoria, salmon from sustainable farms and tuna from Australia’s only MSC-certified fishery.