When Copenhagen’s venerated restaurant Noma announced its closure for renovation, René Redzepi, its star chef, had a plan. A Taste of Noma pop-up eatery opened at Claridge’s hotel in London, not so coincidentally coinciding with the summer Olympics, and tickets for the 3,400 available sittings sold out in just two and a half hours.
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In the last few years, pop-up retail shops, salons, art galleries and bakeries have taken over hotel lobbies, train stations and department stores. But none of them have had the zeitgeist-y appeal of pop-up restaurants. Equally loved by restaurateurs and diners—and especially embraced by bloggers and tweeters—they are having a moment.
Often, but not always, publicized by social media like Twitter (see the hashtag #popup), Foursquare and Instagram, they usually take over preexisting spaces like a park, a rooftop, a plaza or an existing restaurant or gallery. They rely on buzz. Occasionally they channel local cuisine, like the Secret Teacup Pop-Up in a Clapham, UK, farmhouse, or the fondue tram in Zurich, Switzerland, which leaves the scent of bubbling Gruyère in its wake.
Other times they aspire to give diners a theatrical sense of another place and time; Brighton in Manhattan’s Eventi hotel recreates a Brighton Beach boardwalk-inspired experience. Some, like the worldwide Dinner in the Sky franchise—which serves diners as they dangle 150 feet above a city—look silly but continue to attract big-name chefs like Yannick Alléno and Joël Robuchon.
Architect David Rockwell, whose New York restaurant-design projects include Maialino and Adour, came to the scene early in 2006, when his company, Rockwell Group, transformed the Hard Rock Café into the Bon Appétit Supper Club and Café. “My passion for creating temporary events lies in my love for theatre and spectacle,” says Rockwell. “A short-lived experience, such as a pop-up, may have taken months or years of preparation, but the experience can create a powerful and lasting memory.”
Restaurant investors from Tokyo to Houston are increasingly embracing the pop-up idea because low rents, minimum staffing and short “seasons” have led to much bigger profit margins. Kick-starting a new restaurant in New York or the Bay Area can cost half a million dollars, while operating a pop-up usually runs just $2,000 to $5,000 a week. The business model is so popular, event companies specializing in pop-up restaurant management and dedicated pop-up spaces—like San Francisco’s FoodLab—have emerged. And perhaps no city has embraced the trend more than London, which has seen dozens of pop-ups open in places like the London Eye, the National Theatre and Royal Festival Hall.
The results are as delicious as they are profitable. The food tends to be less constricted and edgier. The chefs are younger, the stakes are bigger and there’s more money to play with. Diners ultimately reap the rewards, and the only challenge is booking a table before they all sell out.
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This story was originally published by Departures.
Hop aboard Zurich's steamy fondue tram, a seasonal pop-up stübli that runs from October to March along the city's actual tram routes, whizzing past Christmas markets, Lake Zurich and the city's charming altstadt (old city), leaving a lingering waft of Gruyère in its wake. Two trams operate, and each seats up to 42 guests. While diners design their chosen route, the trams' interiors have been designed to resemble a cozy fonduestübli, with plaid curtains, linen-covered tables and wooden booths.41-0848/801-880; fonduetram.ch.
Part of the Kor Group's take on a pop-up concept called ATO (A Temporary Offering), this dedicated pop-up complex in the historic Renoir Hotel includes a separate pop-up bar, denim shop, bookstore and coffee roastery. FoodLab, the restaurant section, offers a rotating roster of pop-up ideas, which have included everything from a chicken-and-waffles restaurant to a Farewell to Foie Gras dinner to commemorate California's ban on the delicacy. The chefs range from the well-known to the emerging. Check its Twitter feed for schedules, pricing and the current menu. 1106 Market St.; 415-834-5348;sffoodlab.com.
The Noma pop-up may be booked, but there is no shortage of other UK pop-ups this summer. Electrolux's stylised Cube is a good one to try. The haute designer pop-up, which has had stints atop the Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels and Milan's Piazza del Duomo, most recently planted itself at the top of London's Royal Festival Hall, offering 18 guests views of London's classic sights (Big Ben, the Thames, Parliament). Six handpicked Michelin-starred chefs from the British Isles include Sat Bains, Claude Bosi and Tom Kitchin, and they promise to raise the bar on British cuisine during the Cube's stay through September 30.Lunch, $275; dinner, $338 (prices include Champagne reception, minimum 6-course tasting menu and paired wines); 44-20/7288-6450; electrolux.co.uk.
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