This Philly Restaurant and Food Truck Owner Makes Time for Wellness Despite All Her Meetings

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Kiki Aranita, co-owner of Poi Dog in Rittenhouse, shares how she balances operating a restaurant, food truck, and catering business with living a healthy lifestyle. / Photograph courtesy of Kiki Aranita

Welcome to Sweat Diaries, Be Well Philly’s look at the time, energy, and money people invest in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle in Philly. For each Sweat Diary, we ask one area resident to spend a week tracking everything they eat, all the exercise they get, and the money they spend on both. Want to submit a Sweat Diary? Email lbrzyski@phillymag.com[1].

Who I am: Kiki Aranita (@kikiaranita[2]), 34

Where I live: Burg’s Secret Hideaway[3] is my neighborhood bar

What I do: I co-own and operate Poi Dog[4], a fast-casual restaurant, food truck, and catering business based in Rittenhouse that is rooted in Hawaiian cuisine. I also serve on several charitable event boards, including No Kid Hungry[5]‘s Pennsylvania Chefs’ Board; C-CAP[6] which benefits underserved youth through culinary arts education; Feastival[7]; and Vetri Community Partnership[8]. As of this month, I am the chair of the Hahn Scholarship Committee, which funds summer fellows to attend the American Academy in Rome and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (I went to graduate school at both institutions) to study material culture and visit archaeological sites. I attend and organize events and collaborations like ingredient-focused dinners and teach cooking classes on making poke and folding dumplings in the Poi Dog prep kitchen.

What role healthy living plays in my life: During events season, I have an extremely physical job. You’ll find me working in the food truck, catering weddings and birthday parties, and serving at offsite events. I’m committed to working out regularly because physically demanding jobs do not replace exercise, and maintaining balance, flexibility, and grace is everything when moving about a kitchen, whether mobile or stationary.

As for nutrition, I am far more conscious of what I consume now than when Poi Dog first started seven years ago. At that time, I wasn’t properly nourishing my body. I have a tendency to overwork, and from the end of the first year of Poi Dog through the third, my body rebelled, refusing to obey simple commands like, ‘Open that bottle,’ or, ‘Hold that knife.’ Rheumatoid arthritis invaded my body, and I had little control over these chronically stiff and swollen joints. I lost an extreme amount of weight, was perpetually fatigued, experienced extreme vertigo, and could barely walk or hold a pen to sign my name. My friends signed checks for me and would come over to open jars around the house. I kept the backyard storm door propped open for a year and a half, so I could let my chihuahua out. I dreaded every staircase.

I decided to try every suggestion to heal myself, from eliminating certain foods on rotation to see if sugar, gluten, nightshades, or alcohol was the culprit. RA is a mysterious disease, and my doctor at Penn encouraged me to try anything that would alleviate my symptoms. I went to acupuncture. I went home to Hong Kong for a period, adopting a program with Chinese medicine in addition to Western medicine. I tried a truly horrific form of electroshock acupuncture. I consumed many, many medications and supplements. Eventually, two years later, I found medications that worked. I am eternally indebted to Penn Medicine’s rheumatology team[9] because they gave me my life back. I am healthy and active now and, as of exactly one year ago, I am totally off medication.

Health memberships (and what they cost):

Monday

Aranita enjoys a “Frizwit” at Musi with her friend and salmon rep, Emma. / Photograph courtesy of Kiki Aranita

5 a.m. — I wake up and stare into the darkness for 10 minutes, then wash my face and get into workout clothes. I make a cup of coffee. Tip: Save your coffee grounds to toss into your hydrangeas (if you have them). It keeps them perky!

5:45 a.m. — I start writing out today’s to-do list. This is a light week for me. October is at the tail end of events season, and the food truck is only booked for weekend parties this month. I’m coming down from a really intense two weeks of back-to-back events, ones that I organize and attend, and this is the first week in months I’m not leaving Philly. In fact, I barely plan on crossing Broad Street this week.

6 a.m. — Time to head out for my workout at Barre3. It’s early, but I’m used to these morning classes. They are a great start to my day.

6:30 a.m. — Class time!

7:50 a.m. — I’m stretched out and showered (Barre3 has really nice showers) and decide to stop at Saxbys[13] on my way to work for a Groothie, a smoothie made with kale, pineapple, and banana ($6.48). I am hopelessly addicted to these.

8:15 a.m. — Arrived at Poi Dog and am setting up the shop for the day.

9:22 a.m. — I’ve got to run some errands, including stopping by the post office and the bank. On the way, I step on a spotted lantern fly and feel like I’ve done my civic duty.

10:30 a.m. — I’m back at Poi Dog. After making sure a catering order goes out the door, I work on mixing up a tomato bone broth with tomato parts leftover from a lomi lomi salmon and bone broth made from the carcass of a pig roasted at a SIW Vegetables[14] farm dinner the week prior.

Noon — Customers are here and are always plenty hungry during lunchtime. I hover around the line a bit during our rush just to make sure things go well and people are satisfied. Another tip: If you want a guaranteed seat at Poi Dog, come after 1 p.m.

1:30 p.m. — I spend the afternoon doing some paperwork and checking in on upcoming catering orders.

5 p.m. — I’m speaking to a tour group from Beyond the Bell[15] that has filled up the restaurant’s dining room. It’s neat to have people come in to hear about the history of Poi Dog, what we do and how we operate, and Hawaii’s complicated plantation history.

5:58 p.m. — I head to Musi[16] for dinner with a friend, but I’m really here for a Frizwit ($13). It’s the the best cheesesteak in Philly — take it from a girl who doesn’t eat cheesesteaks and consumes little red meat in general! I’m here with Emma Rooney[17], my Skuna Bay salmon rep, an aquaculture expert, and a good friend. I crossed Broad AND Washington for this sandwich, meaning it’s gotta be good. But also, they only make it on the first Monday of each month, meaning it’s gotta be really good. I had squirreled away some of the Poi Dog–inspired passion-orange-guava apple cider that Hale and True[18] crafted for an event and share that with the Musi kitchen.

7:56 p.m. — Two hours later, we’re still here, and Emma is still talking about sustainable aquaculture.

10 p.m. — Home and time for bed!

Daily total: $19.48

Tuesday

On Tuesday night, Aranita and her friends chow down on all the pizza at Pizzeria Beddia. / Photograph courtesy of Kiki Aranita

5:45 a.m. — Wake up, drink coffee, and speedwalk to Barre3.

7:15 a.m. — During class, I marvel at how my body can do everything today, even though the shakes never go away!

9 a.m. — I show up for a women in hospitality group meeting at Barbuzzo[19] before everyone else arrives, so I dash over to Double Knot[20] for a coffee ($2.25 plus $1 tip), then eat a chocolate-covered pretzel that Liz Einhorn[21] brought in a Tupperware container and a bowtie-shaped pastry made by Jezabel Careaga[22].

10:15 a.m. — I meet Jonathan Deutsch, professor of culinary arts and food science in Drexel’s hospitality program, at Baology[23] for breakfast to talk about our joint mission to reduce food waste in Philadelphia. We also end up talking about how to motivate culinary students (I hired three of his) and make them faster, better cooks and potential managers. I enjoy the forbidden rice congee with an extra soy-braised egg ($4.50, though I don’t think they charged me for the egg) and a winter sprout hot tea ($3). I also take a bite of Jonathan’s irresistible-looking sausage and egg shao bing. I take half the congee home because it’s so filling.

11:20 a.m. — Back at work, and we’re mixing up pet food made from scrap tuna and salmon skin, reserving the ahi bloodline for Piggyback Treats[24], a company that makes dog treats from high quality, human-grade food waste. I eat some of the salmon skin dog treats with a bite of rice.

1 p.m. — Alyssa Termini, who runs C-CAP, comes to Poi Dog for coffee, which turns out to be a water-chugging session as we map out a battle plan of promoting the Ignite Benefit.

2 p.m. — Time for a Poi Dog staff meeting, followed by a manager meeting.

5:22 p.m. — I take Coconut, my chihuahua, on a walk to Sprouts[25] to select a Halloween pumpkin. She chooses a big one.

6:48 p.m. — Some of my friends pick me up for a birthday party that starts out with drinks at Front Street Café[26]. I only drink water because I never reintroduced beer into my body after the whole RA episode.

8 p.m. — We move to Pizzeria Beddia[27], where I promptly consume two and a half slices of pizza, three beans, bites of shared salads, and a couple spoonfuls of that very good Trickling Springs[28] soft serve ($55 total).

11:18 p.m. — I’m in bed, and Coconut is sleeping on my hair. Goodnight!

Daily total: $65.75

Wednesday

Aranita’s Wednesday lunch includes two different kinds of poke and Spam Musubi. / Photograph by Kiki Aranita

7:42 a.m. — I wake up later because I’m not going to any kind of workout class today. My bed is extra comfy this morning, so I enjoy it a bit longer than usual.

8:22 a.m. — I sip on some coffee while making myself breakfast: two scrambled eggs with cheddar, goat cheese, and cherry tomatoes from my garden. I have to take my breakfast to go and will eat it in my office once I get to work.

9:25 a.m. — I am holed up in my office with Eileen Subacus, bookkeeper extraordinaire. We’re paying bills, following up on unpaid invoices, running payroll, doing the behind-the-scenes finances for both the restaurant and the catering business. I stress eat the remaining 12 peanut butter M&Ms I keep stashed in the filing cabinet.

10 a.m. — I cover the counter at Poi Dog for an hour since we have a staff member out with a knee injury.

12:26 p.m. — Lunch rush…or should I say lunch crush?! We killed it today. I’m back in the basement office, scheduling and writing emails. I wish I had more M&Ms.

2:06 p.m. — I eat some spicy ahi and shoyu ahi poke and the tiniest Spam musubi in the world. When the Spam gets sliced, sometimes there are trimmings, which become these bite-sized blocks of goodness.

2:20 p.m. — I head over to Penn for an appointment with my rheumatologist.

3:15 p.m. — My doctor says no one really knows why or how RA goes into remission, but in my case, it could have to do with the reduction of stress. She says that I don’t need to come back unless I experience symptoms. I struggle to maintain my composure and can’t help but smile.

5:45 p.m. — I head to dinner at Rangoon[29] with a friend, where I get treated! Rangoon is my favorite restaurant in Philly and they make the best salads in the world.

8:28 p.m. — Home for the evening. Coconut and I pass out on the couch while watching spy shows on Netflix. We eventually go upstairs to get ready for bed.

Daily total: $0

Thursday

Sometimes during lunch rush, Aranita covers the Poi Dog counter to help get customers their delicious food as quick as possible. / Photograph by Kiki Aranita

6 a.m. — Wake up, take out Coconut, and make some coffee before heading to Barre3.

7:15 a.m. — Time for class with Emily McGrath, who is one of my favorite barre instructors, even though she makes us do more planks than any other instructor.

9:30 a.m. — I’ve got a planning meeting for Vetri Community Partnership. While there, I drink two cups of Elixr[30] coffee and eat the most delicious bacon mushroom cheese strata made by Elise from Primal Supply Meats[31].

10:48 a.m. — I’m back at Poi Dog making tamago for tonight’s catering event.

3:35 p.m. — Taking a break from catering stuff, I meet with Suzanna Urminska of the Free Library Culinary Literacy Center[32], who shows me a catalog of images from the Manjiro manuscript[33], and we plan spring programming that ties together the shipwrecked teenager’s travels through Hawaii during the mid-19th century with a culinary component.

4:32 p.m. — Back at Poi Dog, and I’m famished. I eat a bowl of rice and furikake, burnt mochi nori fried chicken ends, and some shoyu ahi poke. Yum.

6 p.m. — I meet my museum buddy, Leah, a bioengineering professor at Temple, at the Barnes for a lecture on Teapots and Sugar Boxes. I’ve always had a fixation on the mundane and everyday, hence my writing this Sweat Diary and attending a lecture on teapots. There’s a reception after the lecture, and I have two plates of tzatziki with tabbouleh and couscous and some pinot noir. My museum membership ($500 per year, but $250 is tax deductible!) is worth the snacks alone.

9:30 p.m. — Home and time for bed!

Daily total: $0

Friday

For a mid-day snack, Aranita fries some rice paper wrappers and tops it with a spoonful of spicy ahi poke. / Photograph by Kiki Aranita

7:45 a.m. — Coffee at home, wishing today was the end of my week instead of Saturday. That’s what being a restaurant person involves.

8:30 a.m. — Barre3 class with Stephanie Maas[34], the owner, who tells us to “embrace the chaos.” I’m trying, Stephanie!

9:45 a.m. — I pick up a Groothie from Saxbys ($6.48) and stop at Target to restock my peanut butter M&M’s supply ($5.59).

12:29 p.m. — Middle of Friday lunch rush. I help on the line a bit and also fry up a bunch of rice paper wrappers and eat one with a spoonful of spicy ahi poke.

2:45 p.m. — Home to walk Coconut and scramble two eggs with goat cheese, some backyard tomatoes I didn’t yank out from Coconut’s jaws, and kale.

3:38 p.m. — I step on another spotted lanternfly while walking Coconut and feel like I am helping the world again.

4:14 p.m. — Emma, who just got back from traveling for work, picks up me and Coconut to entertain her while she drives to New Jersey to fetch her Pomeranian. After, she drops us off at the Bok Building, so we can go to Sabbatical Beauty[35] to meet with Adeline Koh[36]. We go over plans for our upcoming Seaweed On Your Face event (happened November 2nd). I will be leading a seaweed poke demo while Adeline will teach our guests how to make a seaweed face mask. Adeline gives me the prototype of the seaweed mask with the caveat that kelp might need to be added.

6:45 p.m. — I’m home and on the couch binge-watching The Blacklist [37]with Coconut and eating the leftover Baology congee from Tuesday’s breakfast. We are in bed before 9 p.m.

Daily total: $12.07

Weekly totals

Money spent: $97.30
Workouts completed: Four
Meetings attended: Nine
Spotted lanternflies stepped on: Two, but that’s two fewer that’ll ruin our ecosystem.

Endnotes:
  1. lbrzyski@phillymag.com: mailto:lbrzyski@phillymag.com
  2. @kikiaranita: https://www.instagram.com/kikiaranita/
  3. Burg’s Secret Hideaway: https://www.burgshideaway.com/
  4. Poi Dog: https://www.poidogphilly.com/
  5. No Kid Hungry: https://www.nokidhungry.org/
  6. C-CAP: https://ccapinc.org/
  7. Feastival: https://phillyfeastival.com/
  8. Vetri Community Partnership: https://vetricommunity.org/
  9. Penn Medicine’s rheumatology team: https://www.pennmedicine.org/departments-and-centers/department-of-medicine/divisions/rheumatology
  10. ClassPass: https://classpass.com/
  11. Barre3: https://barre3.com/studio-locations/rittenhouse
  12. BalletX: https://www.balletx.org/
  13. Saxbys: https://www.saxbyscoffee.com/
  14. SIW Vegetables: http://siw-vegetables.blogspot.com/
  15. Beyond the Bell: https://www.beyondthebelltours.com/
  16. Musi: https://musiphilly.com/
  17. Emma Rooney: https://www.instagram.com/rooney__emma/
  18. Hale and True: https://haleandtrue.com/
  19. Barbuzzo: http://barbuzzo.com/
  20. Double Knot: http://www.doubleknotphilly.com/
  21. Liz Einhorn: https://www.instagram.com/thebeerlady215/
  22. Jezabel Careaga: https://www.jezabelcareaga.com/
  23. Baology: https://www.baology.com/
  24. Piggyback Treats: https://www.piggybacktreats.com/
  25. Sprouts: https://www.sprouts.com/
  26. Front Street Café: https://frontstreetcafe.net/
  27. Pizzeria Beddia: https://www.pizzeriabeddia.com/
  28. Trickling Springs: https://tricklingspringscreamery.com/
  29. Rangoon: http://www.rangoonphilly.com/
  30. Elixr: https://elixrcoffee.com/
  31. Primal Supply Meats: http://www.primalsupplymeats.com/
  32. Free Library Culinary Literacy Center: https://libwww.freelibrary.org/programs/culinary/
  33. Manjiro manuscript: https://rosenbach.org/blog/manjiro/
  34. Stephanie Maas: https://www.instagram.com/stephanie_maas1/
  35. Sabbatical Beauty: https://sabbaticalbeauty.com/
  36. Adeline Koh: https://www.instagram.com/adelinekohphd/
  37. The Blacklist : https://www.nbc.com/the-blacklist

Source URL: https://www.phillymag.com/be-well-philly/2019/11/07/poi-dog/