Everything’s coming up pop-ups. As with food trucks, this form of guerrilla cheffing borne of economic need has become a global phenomenon. Equal parts dinner party and dinner theater, a pop-up refers to a dining establishment that is open anywhere from one to several nights, usually in an existing restaurant or other commercial food establishment.
The impermanent nature of pop-ups means no real overhead or utilities, and little food cost and labor. They’re not enough to sustain chefs financially, but are instead a great way for them to make a name for themselves and draw some income in between (or during) gigs. Pop-ups also give chefs a chance to stretch themselves, stylistically or ethnically, although some prefer to let local ingredients shine. Most pop-ups give props to sustainability by sourcing product from local farms, which is part of what gives these fly-by-night operations such a wonderful sense of place.
The term pop-up originated in San Francisco, with the restaurant Lung Shan, in the city’s Mission District. Most days, Lung Shan is a nondescript Chinese restaurant that does a hum-drum business, but two days a week it metamorphoses into Mission Street Food, a serious restaurant with serious chefs cooking for serious customers. Such an arrangement creates a venue for aspiring young chefs, who can ply their trade without the monumental investment that starting up a restaurant normally entails. Pop-ups not only provide a stage for talented chefs but inject needed lifeblood into struggling restaurants whose kitchens are underused much of the time.
Tip: Due to the nature of pop-ups, the best way to find them is to Google the words, “pop-up restaurant, ____ (city).” You can also go to Pop up Restaurants for news. Get popping!