By Brandon Macz
There's a new tower growing in popularity on First Hill that is constructed and deconstructed multiple times a day, then consumed in a matter of minutes.
"Take my word," said Ryan Lee, "you can"t find a poke tower anywhere else in Seattle."
Coffee Tree & Poke had its grand opening in First Hill on Aug. 1, not far from Lee's first Coffee Tree at 905 Eighth Ave., which opened four years ago and specializes in paninis. He and his wife live upstairs.
Lee said he saw a lack of food choices around his new space at 613 Ninth Ave., and also knew many of his customers would be employees coming from nearby Harborview Medical Center, so whatever he offered needed to be quick and healthy.


 
While poke love is growing in Seattle, Lee's First Hill Tower " a stack of rice, spicy tuna, crabmeat, avocado and seaweed, surrounded by cucumber and a dollop of black and yellow caviar inside a moat of special sauces " is a rebranding of a signature dish at his father's Kaze restaurants in Mequite and Dallas.
"My father and I started the business in 2004, after I got a degree in hospitality," Lee said, adding it gave him skills in hibachi, sushi, poke and even Korean cooking.
After getting married, Lee moved to Seattle in 2009 to pursue new ventures.
"My wife and I, we both like nature," he said. "We actually love rain."
Lee said he also fell in love with coffee, opening his first Coffee Tree in 2012.
"That store, it was a roller coaster," he said, especially when Specialty's Cafe & Bakery opened next door. To get customers back to Coffee Tree, Lee said he implemented his LTS system: Location, taste and service.
"I always tell my employees, "Take the perspective of the guest's shoes,"" he said.
Coffee Tree & Poke lost the paninis in favor of poke, but retained its Victrola coffee and all-day breakfast sandwiches. With the hot weather, Lee said people are opting for poke bowls and bubble tea for lunch. He added a two-sushi roll option this week for $7.95. He's considering a winter ramen option.
Lee said he doesn"t want to offer too many menu items, which he thinks was part of the problem with Kafe Berlin, the coffee shop that existed there before Coffee Tree & Poke. He's also against paying for advertising.

"I truly believe in word of mouth, because if I give you a dish and it's truly worth it, that's advertising in itself," he said, adding at $10.99 for a First Hill Tower, he has to be sure quality is maintained.
Coffee Tree & Poke uses fish from Young Ocean in Kent, delivered daily.
The First Hill Tower doesn"t stay upright long, because once Lee or one of his staff presents the dish, it is dismantled and shaped into a heart. While constructing a poke tower is easy for Lee, he said the black exterior remodel for his poke and coffee shop is on hold until the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board signs off on changes to the historic German House. The interior is juxtaposed with white walls.
For whatever business issues that come up, Lee said he calls his dad every day to provide updates and get coaching.
"He's happy about it," Lee said of his father's opinion of his new poke stop. "He's telling our team in Kaze how well we're doing."
Coffee Tree & Poke is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.