A parking lot burger cart, a trailside chicken shack: Many pop-up restaurants started as pandemic stopgaps. But as diners continue choosing take-out over sit-down, these intended-to-be-temporary ventures may have staying power.
In 2020, pandemic measures devastated the restaurant industry. Crowding diners into enclosed spaces wasn’t wise.
Enter the pop-up restaurant, a temporary eating establishment. Pop-ups come in many forms. A ramen cook might appear for one night only at an established restaurant; an empanada maker could rent an empty space or set up a tent to offer meals for delivery only.
Pop-ups can help beginning chefs gain exposure with both diners and future investors. With less overhead and staffing costs, pop-ups are cheaper to operate than established, full-service brick-and-mortar locations. They also can bring buzz to restaurants that host crowd-drawing special events to entice diners. Some pop-ups have even morphed into permanent new businesses.
Work is a gift from God. He encourages His people to work hard. (Colossians 3:23) During the early days of the pandemic, pop-ups allowed chefs and traditional restaurant owners to keep on working.
Alex Thaboua is co-owner of Electric Burrito in New York City. His venture began as a pop-up at another restaurant in 2020. A permanent location opened in May 2021. It focuses on take-out and delivery. Even if there’s another lockdown, Electric Burrito can keep operating.
“This flexibility was something we found very important during our pop-up stages,” Thaboua says. “We can continue to operate with a lean team.”
Since the pandemic began, Nashville’s Hathorne restaurant has benefited from hosting about 10 pop-up events featuring local chefs. The chefs receive publicity and access to a professional kitchen; Hathorne fills empty seats.
“We knew, when we reopened, we were not going to be able to be open six or seven days a week because staffing and business wasn’t going to be there,” says owner John Stephenson.
Stephenson knew chefs who were creating take-out dinners or starting food trucks just to stay afloat. He invited them to pop up at Hathorne.
Currently, Hathorne hosts Chef Michael Hanna’s pizza company, St. Vito Focacciaria, on Sundays. Hanna and his staff get work, and “it keeps people coming in our doors,” Stephenson says.
Marisa Iocco co-owns Spiga Ristorante in Massachusetts. “During the pandemic it was very challenging to survive,” she says.
So Iocco got creative. She opened Polpettiamo around an hour away in Rhode Island. The pop-up serves take-out meatballs only. The same meatballs are appetizers at Spiga.
Iocco says building something new during the pandemic gave her a “vitamin B12 shot” of energy. Now she’s considering two new restaurants. Sounds like she’ll need that boost.
Why? Awareness about the kinds of challenges others are facing in their lives and livelihoods can make Christians kinder and better consumers of others’ goods and services.
Pray: For businesses and people affected by the pandemic and its reverberating effects; to be an encouragement to those who are suffering.