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Alumni Duo to Bring a Taste of Hawaii to Somerville

By Margot D. Dionne, Contributing Writer

Two Harvard alumni and longtime friends are swapping textbooks for cookbooks and pencils for poke bowls.

James M. Acer ’14 and Josiah B. Bonsey ’14 are opening Manoa, Hawaii-inspired poke bowl restaurant in Somerville, near Porter Square. Acer said the restaurant, which is named after a neighborhood in Honolulu, will open in several weeks pending final approval on a few permits.

“We think we have something that’s really unique and hopefully that people will respond to,” Bonsey said.

According to Bonsey, Manoa’s signature menu item will be a traditional poke bowl. A poke bowl contains a rice or quinoa base and a fish, usually tuna or salmon. Acer said customers can add toppings to the bowl and even “douse it in wonton chips and soy sauce.”

Other menu items will include kalua pig and spam musubi, Bonsey said.

“Basically, we want to serve the type of food that you would eat at a luau in Hawaii,” Bonsey said.

Born in Massachusetts, Bonsey lived with his family in Hawaii until he was in middle school. Bonsey said the restaurant is inspired by the food he ate while living there.

“My brother Sam and I had just been back to Hawaii to visit some friends and family and we were eating a ton of poke and were thinking, ‘It’s crazy that no one does this on the mainland,’” he said.

Upon returning home and after some research, Bonsey discovered that Boston is an important city for the tuna trade. Realizing there were few Hawaiian restaurants in the Boston area, Bonsey decided to open a food truck featuring Hawaiian-themed dishes, he said. After several months of trying to open a food truck, however, Bonsey decided it “wasn’t going to be viable” and turned towards opening Manoa, a full-time restaurant.

Bonsey said he has been working toward opening Manoa for about two years and Acer for about four months. Acer joined the Manoa team over the summer after spending two years working for a consulting firm in New York City.

“It is very very different than working on the 20th floor of some big skyscraper in New York City,” Acer said of starting in the restaurant business. “The joys of it are much greater and the challenges are much different.”

Camille M. Bean ’20 was enthusiastic about the prospect of having a poke shop on the east coast.

“I’m from California and poke is already really popular over there, so I’ll be excited to have it over here,” she said.

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