Interview with Abtin Hashemian, Developer at Poke Me

March 5, 2019
Abtin Hashemian is a leading restaurant owner and developer based in Southern California. Through food and service, Abtin is determined to make quality taste experiences accessible to all. With humble beginnings as a Subway sandwich artist, Abtin solidified his passion for the food service industry early on to become a multi-unit Subway® restaurant owner. Today, he operates several restaurant concepts, including Subway and a new Hawaiian poke concept, Poke Me, throughout Greater Los Angeles and Orange County.

Abtin believes business thrives on two fundamentals: team and culture. Named #1 Multi-Unit Franchise Group in Los Angeles for three consecutive years (2013-2016), Abtin credits the continued growth of his concepts to his team members and the culture that's been shaped within the company. His methodology is to train and empower; a results-driven mentality that invests time, energy and guidance into his staff.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Abtin is a second generation Iranian-American. The hospitable nature deeply rooted within Iranian culture has influenced Abtin's leadership approach - an authentic "lead by example" mentality. Abtin is always in pursuit of what's next in the food service industry. He's passionate about integrating technology into the category, specifically robotics, AR/VR, and more. By combining team, culture and innovation, Abtin hopes to drive the food & beverage space into the future.
Our choice was to grow organically because we know in this way we can build the foundation for the future.
Q: What professional accomplishments are you most proud of since you started working with Poke Me as a developer?

Abtin :
In 2017 we opened three locations under the Poke Me concept! This is a big accomplishment because the LA market is saturated right now with food and beverage concepts. Opening the three locations and being cash flow positive and maintaining profitability is also a great accomplishment for us. Our choice was to grow organically because we know in this way we can build the foundation for the future. Running a team of 50 people comes with great responsibilities, and yes it's a tough battle, it's a lot of work and you need to be involved in your business in order to succeed.

Q: What is one piece of advice that you will give someone running a restaurant business?

Abtin : I think patience is definitely the vehicle for success and being business smart is the fuel. Focus on things that will have a high return over the course of a long period, like branding and company culture. Also, you need to put a lot of passion in your work, and you need to pay attention to all the important aspects of your business. In our case, something that I like to focus on is playing the long term game and I'm sure in the end this will make the difference between us and others.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you have met in your career?


Abtin : I think manpower and labor is an ongoing challenge and an opportunity as well. Retaining employees has been definitely the biggest challenge and it continues to be. These days when you hire someone, especially for the hourly jobs, it's tough when you see them leaving within seven and ten days because they found a better job that pays 10 to 25 cents more an hour. Above everything that you face every day, loyalty of your employees is very important.
Everyone is moving fast, from the hourly workers to top management. I like to focus on playing the long term game and I'm sure in the end this will make the difference between us and others.
Q: What are some challenges or trends you see in hiring today?

Abtin : Everyone is moving fast, from the hourly workers to top management. In the near future , in terms of hiring, we will see more use of machine learning, across our industry. We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg! Just like in most aspects of our society, the intersection of these type of technologies will start being ultimately used more often.

Q: Have you ever had an hourly job? If yes, please share with us your experience?

Abtin : Yes, I have worked as an hourly worker during high school and back in college. When I was 16 years old I worked in a Subway restaurant for my family. This helped me to gain life experience because I had the opportunity to see how the foundation of the organization looks like. Also, when I was doing my undergraduate studies pursuing my education I worked a little bit with people with disabilities. These experiences did shape my attitude, my approach and most importantly my leadership style that I carry with me to this day.
The Poke Me concept is an elevated concept and for our business, is very important to keep all our employees close and happy.
Q: How would you describe your company culture?

Abtin : The Poke Me concept is an elevated concept as we're dealing with raw fish. Whether you're eating sushi, sashimi or any type of raw fish it's obviously a little bit more of an distinct concept and ambiance. The type of food that we're serving definitely attracts a certain type of team member and obviously has a certain type of consumer as well. For us, all these forces are working together to create the environment and culture that we live and breathe in and work daily. For our business, is very important to keep all our employees close and happy.
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