Three's Company: The Butterfish Story

We sat down with Butterfish owners, Brandon Smittcamp, Kevin Koligian and Rema Koligian to ask them about their restaurant, which specializes in “California Poke.” They explained how the business started and what makes it different from other culinary experiences in the Valley.
“We were convinced that there had to be a way to make and serve delicious, healthy, fresh food,” they told us. Furthermore, as the three put their heads together, they realized, “The options were limited. If it was fast, it usually wasn’t healthy. If it was healthy, it often didn’t taste great. And if it was convenient, it typically wasn’t fresh.” Since they have families who have been farming in the Valley for generations, and they all knew and appreciated fine dining, “We knew we could do better,” they decided.

Brandon and Kevin, both born and raised in Fresno, have been best friends since kindergarten and they even had their first jobs together: Brandon (who is an eligible bachelor, by the way!) and Kevin worked at Lyons Magnus in junior high, stacking boxes on pallets at the end of a production line. Kevin and Rema first met in Sacramento at McGeorge School of Law in 2005. Kevin made a great sales pitch about Fresno and the rest, as they say, is history; the two will celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary this fall. We were curious: how did three friends concoct the unique concept of their restaurant, California Poke?

“We each enjoyed eating poke in Hawaii, and on the heels of one of us complaining about the lack of healthy food options in town, we decided to develop our own California Poke Bowl concept. It was important to us that we offer more than just raw fish, so we started playing with ways to incorporate real crab, shrimp and chicken,” they told CVLUX. “We came up with the name ‘Butterfish,’ because we wanted a playful, catchy name. We liked the fact that ‘butterfish’ was a little oxymoronic in that we don’t serve butterfish or cook with butter.”

When we asked the trio what their personal favorite Butterfish bowls are, they each had a different response. Brandon likes a combination of salmon, seared ahi, brown rice, wontons, spicy thai, cilantro, green onions, toasted sesame seeds, Sriracha ponzu, miso vinaigrette, cucumber, shaved snap peas, jalapeno, blistered shishito peppers, spicy mayo drizzle and crispy onions. Kevin’s favorite bowl includes ahi, sushi rice, wontons, Srirachi ponzu, miso vinaigrette, cilantro, green onion, toasted sesame seeds, cucumbers, edamame, shaved snap peas, honey cashew drizzle, macadamia nuts and crispy onions. If Rema created her ideal bowl it would include seared ahi, sesame shoyu, cilantro, green onions, toasted sesame seed, shaved snap peas, zucchini threads, wasabi cream drizzle, macadamia nuts and crispy onions.

It’s clear that the possibilities are endless and delicious when it comes to California Poke, but the Butterfish owners say they have a lot of exciting sauces, proteins and topping they haven’t rolled out yet. They also recently accomplished a major goal in signing a lease for a third location in Northwest Fresno.

When we asked them who in their lives has had the greatest impact on the people they are today, Brandon talked about Dave Milutinovich. “He’s the reason I fell in love with the restaurant business,” Brandon explained. Both Kevin and Rema say their grandparents impacted them most. “My grandfather, Vaughn Koligian, Sr., was an incredibly tough man, yet also kind,” said Kevin. Rema’s grandmother, Tobina Dalton, "Exemplified unconditional love and patience," Rema told us.

Those answers led us to to ask the three what the best advice they’ve ever been given, expecting something like, “Work hard,” or, “Don’t give up on your dreams.”

Their unique friendship and sense of humor is fresh and fun, so their answers were comical, to say the least! Best advice Brandon every got? “Don’t go into business with your friend or his wife.” Kevin answered, “Don’t go into business with your wife or your friend.” So of course we weren’t surprised at Rema’s answer: “Don’t go into business with your husband or his friend!”