Sweetcatch Poke — a fast-casual poke spot originally opened with the help of Top Chef alum Lee Anne Wong — has filed for bankruptcy protection following a near eviction from its Bryant Park location, one of two outposts in NYC.
The poke restaurant owed about $24,000 in rental and late fees for its storefront on the ground floor of the Hippodrome Building at 60 W. 44th St., between West 43rd and 44th Streets, according to court documents. New Jersey-based landlord Edison Properties filed a lawsuit July 30 seeking to evict the shop if it didn’t pay up, court documents show.
The landlord was about to finalize an eviction when Sweetcatch’s Bryant Park filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, according to Adam Leitman Bailey, an attorney representing the landlord. The move, filed on September 27, puts off the eviction process for another 60 days, Bailey says.
Business owner Bobby Kwak, who also co-owns the NYC location of Korean barbecue spot Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong, tells Eater he is in the process of selling Sweetcatch but declined to name the buyer.
“We believe there’s a lot of value there, so we believe we can sell the business,” Sweetcatch attorney Lawrence Morrison tells Eater. Kwak and Morrison both dismiss the eviction, saying the shop is here to stay and will remain open at this location.
But the bankruptcy filing alludes to troubled times — “Debtors’ immediate need for relief stems from a pending eviction proceeding pending in civil court,” it says. Sweetcatch began running late on payments in May, according to the eviction proceeding documents, which show the monthly rental rate for the 20-seat space was $17,683.
The shop near Bryant Park has only been open for a few months. It officially debuted in February of this year, two years after Sweetcatch opened its original location on Lexington Avenue. The Sweetcatch team aimed to expand to FiDi and Nolita this year, but its ambitious plans haven’t panned out just yet. The restaurant currently has two operating locations, the one near Bryant Park and its original spot on Lexington Avenue.
Sweetcatch was one of several poke chains to enter the city’s fast-casual restaurant sphere in 2016. The Hawaiian dish quickly took off in NYC for its appeal to health-conscious consumers, a persistent trend of bowl foods, and the public’s general adoration for sushi.
But the company may have entered the market too late, says Wong, who consulted for the restaurant but no longer works with the business. She did not comment on the restaurant’s current financial state.
“Having just visited the East Coast/NYC, I can see how difficult it is for any business to survive with the sheer volume of competition, not to mention the over saturation of poke concepts,” she writes Eater via email. “Poke in freezing wintertime is not appealing, and Sweetcatch got into the market when the poke craze had already peaked.”
It’s a sentiment that’s recently been echoed nationally, too. The co-founder of Poké Bar, which has 53 locations from San Francisco to New York, recently told Nation’s Restaurant News that the poke industry may be “maxed out” — noting that the restaurants may soon follow the path of cupcakes and frozen yogurt shops, which proliferated like crazy and then quickly started to shutter.
Sweetcatch, though not the first poke restaurant to open in NYC, was one of the first to try to go against the Chipotle-style, made-to-order bowls that were more common in the city. The restaurant additionally brought the traditional Hawaiian style to Manhattan, in which the the raw fish comes pre-marinated and is sold by the pound.