It's been about a year since Hai Poke started (literally) popping up, confusing, educating and ultimately tantalizing Columbus diners with its raw-fish-and-rice-(and-more)-in-a-bowl.

It's been about a year since Hai Poke started (literally) popping up, confusing, educating and ultimately tantalizing Columbus diners with its raw-fish-and-rice-(and-more)-in-a-bowl.

"Are you ready for poke?" was a popular ice breaker, followed by, "If you love sushi, you'll love poke." (It rhymes with "okay," in case you haven't ever had the pleasure.) Nile Woodson and Mico Cordero had a passion for the Hawaiian dish and a passion for introducing it as a yummy and healthy quick-food option in Columbus.

"Honestly, we didn't know what the hell we were doing," Cordero said of those salad days (when Hai didn't even have its Wakame Seaweed Salad on the menu). Neither had run a kitchen before, he said, but they "borrowed $1,000 from our moms, bought a couple rice makers and made it happen."

The original plan was a brick and mortar, or maybe a spot at the North Market. But early advice from, among others, Mikey Sorboro of Mikey's Late Night Slice, who used to live across the hall from the Hai guys, led the duo to give pop-ups a try. Successful collaborations with Mikey's, Red Velvet Café and Denmark on High bore out the strategy.

"We worked to figure out which brands would align," Woodson said. "Once we did, it was a win-win and continues to be. We can bring a presence into a space [and] bring energy to a business."

Energy and a great base dish. The early Hai Poke pop-up menu included just two items.

"We had a simple menu, with an emphasis on the ingredients," Woodson said. "When you don't have a lot of distraction on your menu, you have to have good stuff. Every flavor in [the bowl] is there to accentuate the character of the tuna and the rice. We think it's important to do just what you do and do it well."

Woodson and Cordero spent a lot of time listening to customers, too, another foundational approach to how they were going to do business.

"We make it a point to connect with customers, and people really responded," Woodson said. "At the pop-up level, there are fewer preconceived notions and people recognize that giving feedback in a positive manner is making a contribution to something, that they're a part of it."

The expanded Hai Poke menu now includes tofu and veggie (heavy on avocado) bowls, and occasionally salmon - plus the aforementioned Wakame Salad.

Current pop-up homes for Hai Poke are at Pure Pressed (11 a.m-2 p.m. Monday through Friday) and Oddfellows (4-9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and Tuesdays starting in August). Hai Poke's truck launched in April and can be found most weekends at festivals and other events. The Hai team has also expanded from two to six.

And sure, a brick and mortar is still in the works. Woodson said the tentative target is probably next spring for a restaurant opening, although it could happen "tomorrow if we found the right space."

In the meantime, "We get to eat poke whenever we want and spend all day with people," he said.

Cordero was pithier. "In the end, we're just a bunch of nerds slinging rice," he said.