Ari Kahan ’03: Poke Pioneer, Hockey Hound, Boxing Bonafide
Alice and Nahum Lainer School, formerly called Sinai Akiba, has long been at the cutting-edge of educational innovation, so it comes as no surprise that its alumni are carrying that tradition forward in their own fields.
Enter Ari Kahan, a former Sinai Akiba student who today wears the mantle of poke pioneer, as the owner of Mainland Poke Shop, a string of local restaurants bringing fresh, sushi-grade fish to patrons across Los Angeles.
“We were the first to apply the ‘build your own’ concept to poke, which hadn’t been done before,” Kahan says. “And we’re the only poke shop in the country that doesn’t sell frozen fish – every single one that doesn’t have the ‘Mainland’ name on it, that’s what they’re selling.”
Kahan’s evolution from Sinai Akiba student to raw fish entrepreneur took many twists and turns. He graduated from Milken Community High School in 2007, going on to study real estate and business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
From there, he explored multiple interests, interning at ad agencies and for mortgage brokers, working for a private equity firm and preparing for a career in real estate before changing course and pursuing his passion in the restaurant business. It was while he was managing the landmark Röckenwagner Bakery in Venice that he had his “a-ha” moment.
“I realized there wasn’t anybody doing this in L.A., trying to figure out how to bring fresh fish every day, and how to maintain quality. The market was ripe for it,” he says.
Kahan traces the roots of his success to a first-rate education and the benefits of growing up in a cohesive Jewish community. “I’ve been fortunate to be connected to so many people who have taken the time to help me, both at Sinai Akiba and beyond,” he says. “And I can honestly say that every teacher I had at Sinai Akiba was amazing, just incredibly nice and kind.” The strong educational foundation he received there helped prepare him to excel as he moved on to encounter new environments and face fresh challenges.
Today those challenges include running five locations from Santa Monica to West Hollywood to Glendale. During his down time, Kahan cooks with friends, plays ice hockey and boxes, keeping his mind sharp and his body healthy. He also continues to nurture his Jewish roots. “I’ve been to Israel many times, and I feel a very strong connection there,” he says.
Looking back on his days at Sinai Akiba, Kahan feels grateful to have been part of such a unique educational experience. “Learning and growing there was so great,” he says. “And there’s something special about a place where, 20 years later, if you want to share something random with an old classmate, you can just pick up the phone and call them!”