I used to get my hair cut at Nom Nom Poké Shop.
That came out wrong. Until Miss Betty moved Salon 1821 a few blocks south into the heart of Starland, I came to know its numerically eponymous Bull Street address very well, visiting every six weeks or so for a cut and a chat.Get Savannah arts and culture news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and food newsletters
As of last Wednesday, husband-and-wife proprietors Harold Schroeter and Ashley Mumbray gave me a tastier reason to ride my bike to 1821 Bull from now on - and definitely more than once every two months - when they opened Nom Nom Poké Shop.
This first ownership venture of Schroeter and Mumbray has already greeted a happy clientele and has filled a noshing niche along the ever-growing stretch between Park Avenue and Victory.
“On our first full day, we ran out,” said Mumbray this past Sunday, a handful of customers seated in the cozy and clean interior just after three o’clock. Nom Nom is open seven days a week from 10:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., surely to the hungry delight of SCAD students who have classes right across the street in Arnold Hall as well as the rest of us who already love eating our Bull Street way from Brighter Day to Starland Café.
“On Saturday, we did the same numbers as both Thursday and Friday,” Mumbray added with a smile, “so we’re doing really good.”
Immediate success like this could not happen to two nicer people, a couple who brought their own concept and developed their own menu in part to bring even more dining diversity to this part of town.
Taking obvious pride in Nom Nom’s scratch kitchen, Schroeter beams when he talks about the quality of their ingredients, chief among these the ahi tuna from Hawaiian Fresh Seafood: turnaround time from ordering the tuna to delivery is next-day.
The firm, fatty, and clean salmon comes courtesy of Skuna Bay Salmon of British Columbia, Charles Russo Seafood is Nom Nom’s local shrimp provider, and the mixed greens are from Charleston’s indoor farming pioneer Vertical Roots, making Nom Nom only one of three restaurants in Savannah (Husk and Local 11ten) offering this hydroponically shipped produce.
Other than two ‘snacks’, six ‘sides’ ($3 each), and a tuna tataki salad, this is a poké place through and through. The menu is anything but simple, but it is straightforward in that you are here to order a bowl that contains a yummy protein served bite-sized atop a medley of delectable fixins'.
If you do not know poké, think deconstructed sushi-plus neatly nested in a bowl, verdant and vibrant, a medley of texture and taste. Schroeter and Mumbray’s R&D on flavors and ingredients is to be commended and then devoured, fresh, clean, and bright, every bite paired perfectly, just like the thoughtfully and smartly rejuvenated interior that is largely the design of Mumbray.
Nom Nom features twelve ‘signature’ bowls, all $12 and running the protein gamut: two with ahi tuna, two with salmon, one beef, one shrimp, and one tofu. The tenderloin in the seared beef bowl lives up to its name and then some, blushing red on the inside and gently glazed by Schroeter’s piquant tamari-based marinade. The crispy shallots should be on everything - or be served in a large popcorn bucket to munch down on their own.
Building your own bowl, also $12, shifts the ‘kid in a candy store’ idiom to ‘person in a poké shop’ because the combinations are deliciously mind-boggling. Your base is either white or black rice or greens. Then comes one of those five proteins which will be tossed in one of eight house-made sauces. Any four of twenty-plus add-ins are included in the base price, and then nine more ‘premium’ items can be chosen for a nominal charge.
Someone on a middle school math team could tell you exactly how many permutations are possible.
As she stared at the black-and-white menu board and considered her custom-built bowl, my wife said, “Okay, this is going to take me a while.” She landed on a bed of greens topped with market radish slices, edamame, avocado, pickled mushrooms, those crispy shallots, and that gorgeous ahi, deep-pink cuboid jewels that barely need your teeth to do any work.
Take your time at the counter but know that you cannot make a bad choice.
Bowls come out quickly, easily under ten minutes if not under five, and the ingredients look and taste like they have come right out of a garden or an ocean that is magically in the back lane.
A culinary school graduate, Schroeter has worked every position in a restaurant kitchen and in the culinary business over the last decade, most recently at Michael Anthony’s Cucina Italiana and WiseGuys, both on Hilton Head. Throughout their renovation of 1821 Bull, he and Mumbray kept their night jobs, if you will, he in the kitchen and she behind the bar or front of house at WiseGuys, coming into Savannah to work on Nom Nom in the mornings before heading back up to Hilton Head for evening shifts.
Mumbray and Schroeter make the perfect pair. When I asked them separately what they liked most about their new place, they gave me the same answers: the ceiling, the preserved moss accent wall, and the sign in the front window.
The sharp restoration of 1821 Bull belies its architectural attachment to the former Butterhead Greens, whose structure at 1813 Bull looks like it is still standing by virtue of its own buttressed weight. Mumbray and Schroeter signed the lease in September of 2018, but just a few months ago, their space was still a shell.
“We literally built a restaurant in a hair salon,” said Schroeter before listing the litany of repairs and upgrades, both major and minor, that had to be done to the 110-year-old building. Because the couple is renting the space, they credited the property’s owner, Matthew Allen, on what was a cooperative renovation and build-out as well as Josh Ward (Ward Architecture).
Mumbray said that Allen split significant renovation costs, like the complete HVAC replacement, with his new tenants and even consulted them about the color of the exterior paint.
Suffice to say, the totally new interior bears no resemblance to what was 1821 Salon, other than the historic tin ceiling that was pulled down, painstakingly rehabbed, and put back up like an antique puzzle.
The new front windows are huge square eyes on Bull Street, adorned by a PJ Harris hand-painted sign with a little leaf intentionally used as the accent above the E in ‘POKÉ’ to convey their dedication to locally sourced and organic produce. Come late afternoon, five wickery-sparkly hanging lamps cascade their golden pattern on the soft beige interior walls and crisp white boards and trim. A lone surfboard hangs on the south wall. On the opposite side of the small space, the floor-to-ceiling preserved moss wall, created by Jessica Gorman (The Seated Succulent), is a one-of-a-kind art piece ornament.
In the color palette, seating choices, and layout, Nom Nom feels like Savannah took a trip to Hawai’i but stopped off in Southern California for a bite to eat.
Though they live in Bluffton, the couple has had their eyes on this Savannah neighborhood for a while.
“We’re always down here eating lunch,” Schroeter explained. “It’s a little too seasonal on Hilton Head. This area just appealed to us. It always feels so nice to be walking around here.”
Mumbray added that the couple and their daughter, Ava, had walked up and down Bull Street over a period of a couple months, looking for just the right property but discarding a few that they knew were “too big of a project.”
And why poké?
“We love poké,” Mumbray said simply and with a smile. “Every time we go out of town, we find the best poké.” Three years ago, during their Hurricane Matthew evacuation, the family found itself in Charlotte for nine days and visited a poké place every day - literally, every day.
Though a handful of Asian restaurants in and around Savannah have these bountiful bowls on their respective menus, poké is the sole signature standard at Nom Nom. With only a few exceptions, this is the only thing being cranked out by this kitchen, which means that Schroeter’s team is laser-focused in preparing a precise product.
The entire menu was a family affair. In the weeks before the grand opening, four-year-old Ava was the official mochi tester, with Mom and Dad marking each flavor with “Ava likes” or an X. Vanilla chip, chocolate, and thai tea, which is Ava’s favorite, are the ice cream balls she chose and are always on the chalkboard (two for $3.50).
In a way, some things have not changed for Schroeter and Mumbray. He is in the kitchen. She is front of house, taking orders and delivering bowls to diners.
Only now, it is in their own darling poké place.