Apparently, the attention spans of chefs — like the rest of us — are getting shorter. NYC is seeing a surge of temporary restaurants and food shops, dubbed “pop-ups.”
Since the financial stakes are lower at pop-ups, chefs and restaurateurs can take more risks, test-driving new concepts for eateries or getting the word out about a chef. And the very fact that the restaurants are so short-lived — and often only known about by a small group of foodies — ups their coolness factor.
An ever-changing pop-up
Chef John Fraser masters the art of fine dining at Dovetail, but often finds himself itching to cook new dishes. So when a below-market short-term lease became available in a SoHo building destined for demolition, Fraser jumped.
In January, he opened What Happens When, a nine-month pop-up. Each month, Fraser and his team transform the spot’s interior and menu. This month, the inspiration was Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” painting — the menu pays homage to 19th-century French food. But Fraser admits that creating what’s essentially a new restaurant each month hasn’t been easy.
“It’s fun, but very intense,” he said.
Open through October. 25 Cleveland Pl., 212-925-8310. Three-course prix-fixe, $58
James Beard at Chelsea Market
Foodie mecca Chelsea Market will be the site of the James Beard Foundation’s nearly month-long pop-up event, JBF, LTD. The foundation is partnering with some of the biggest names in food to throw 80-seat reservation-only dinners from Tuesday until May 14.
Chefs include Chicago’s Laurent Gras and chef Iñaki Aizpitarte of Paris’s Le Chateaubriand, who will be supported by Momofuku’s David Chang.
“We wanted to open up our dinners to more people and wanted it to cost less than the average dinner at the James Beard House,” said Mitchell Davis, vice president of the foundation.
Tues.-Thur., meals are $75 for four courses with wine; Sat.-Sun., meals are $100. Go to JamesBeard.org or twitter.com/beardfoundation.
A ‘guerilla’ restaurant project
Throughout the year, Alan Philips, founder of Guerrilla Culinary Brigade, runs The Feast pop-up events. The meals have included a pop-art-themed dinner cooked by 15-year-old wunderkind Greg Grossman. Events are never more than four nights long.
“I’m a pop-up purist,” Philips said.
The last event featured a pop-art installation in the Sanctuary Hotel, which was still under construction. Philips hopes to host a Feast outdoor barbecue in June.
Meals cost between $65 and $125 per person. Go to popuprestaurant.com.
‘Top Chef’ gets inspiration from bodegas
Buddakan’s Dale Talde (who appeared on this season’s “Top Chef All Stars”) was hanging with friends when the idea for pop-up event Bodega was born.
The $100-per-person, invite-only, one-night event took place in February. Talde served foods you could buy in a bodega (think bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches and ramen), but gave them a gourmet spin.
“It was a way for me to get out there and see what the reaction is. It’s a $1,300 commitment as opposed to a $600,000 commitment,” he said.
Plus, a temporary spot is great for chefs, who are famously unable to commit: “We are pirates with knives, cutting boards and culinary degrees,” he said.
Luckily, Talde plans to do more invite-only events and open some up to the public. He’s hoping to do a lobster bake next.
A mom-and-son cookie operation
In February, famed cookbook author Dorie Greenspan and her 31-year-old son, Josh, brought their pop-up, CookieBar, to an Upper East Side salon. They sold out each day.
The pop-up actually helped convinced Josh not to go for a permanent cookie business or store.
“With a pop-up, we can change things around and cater to different demographics,” he said.
Josh and Dorie hope to roll out cookie kiosks to pop-up at hotels and other locations starting in May. Cookies will be $2-$3.50.
Time to make (a lot of) doughnuts
Zac Young's regular and booze-infused doughnuts are a huge hit at Flex Mussels, where he's pastry chef.
In January, Young set up a temporary doughnut shop at Zocalo, a Mexican restaurant in Grand Central. The doughnuts, which were $1.50 each, flew out of the restaurant.
"Some days we sold out within hours," he said. "I'm looking to open a brick and mortar place, so it's a great dress rehearsal. The lunch rush was incredible at Grand Central. It opened my eyes.”
Young expects to open another pop-up this summer, though he hasn't finalized dates or location.