A year ago, we profiled Kevin Tien, who was then running a pop-up restaurant dedicated to poke (pronounced “poh-kay”). He was a pioneer in bringing the dish–a Hawaiian raw, marinated fish salad–to Washington, DC. Tien has now moved on from Poke Pop and taken raw fish to a larger venue as the co-owner of Himitsu in Petworth.
Himitsu means “secret” in Japanese, but since opening in November 2016, the restaurant has been defying its name. Himitsu’s Japanese-inspired menu has won a slew of accolades, including spots on Eater’s top 12 and Bon Appétit’s top 50 best new restaurants in America.
Tien got his start in the food business in high school, working part-time at a Japanese restaurant in his native Louisiana. “I started in the restaurant business,” he jokes, “and never got out.” Tien studied finance in college and kept working part-time in restaurants to help pay for his studies. This turned out to be valuable experience because Tien graduated at the height of the financial recession, when jobs in his field of study were in short supply. But people always want food, and he relied on his restaurant experience to make ends meet.
These experiences began to solidify as a career when Tien followed his fiancé to Washington, DC almost six years ago. He again turned to food, and cooked in some of DC’s top restaurants. In particular, he credits a stint at José Andrés’ Oyamel with showing him a new side of the industry that focused on strong company values and employee satisfaction.
“I could not have imagined when I was doing Poke Pop–what, a year ago?–that I would be here today.”
Tien learned and gained experience for several years before deciding to start his own business. He explains, “I’ve worked for great chefs in DC and I decided that it was time to do ‘my food.'” We recently caught up with the busy chef, who shared two big lessons learned since starting his own restaurant.
#1: Staff is more important than anything else
Tien: “It doesn’t matter how good of a chef I am, or how good I am with finances–we could not succeed without our staff. The staff is the most important part of a successful restaurant. We are all really close and everyone bought into the dream of doing our best.”
#2: If you are dedicated and passionate about what you do, it will work out
“It’s true that anything can happen if you chase your dream. I could not have imagined when I was doing Poke Pop–what, a year ago?–that I would be here today. If you are dedicated and passionate about what you do, it will work out.”
Himitsu is located at 828 Upshur St. NW and is open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday.