Foods & Culinary

For pop-up owners, an intersection is returning as restaurants

Former pastry chef at the Gramercy Tavern, Lauren Tran, never expected her selection of chiffon cakes with eube and coconut mousse, longan macarons, and Bánh Bò Nướng – a pandan-flavored tioca and rice flour pastry – to get across her social circle would go out. But when the youngest pastry shop graduates Cake boxes, a mix of Vietnamese desserts and French pastries that sold out within minutes on Instagram each week, turned her previous life plan upside down. “I was able to rely on who I am as a Vietnamese-American woman,” she says. Now Tran wants to translate that success into a business, Bánh by Lauren, that honors Vietnamese desserts with the respect and esteem she sees for European and Janean baked goods.

Amid the endless stream of destruction the pandemic wreaked on the restaurant industry, pop-ups launched by laid-off workers glowed softly as tiny bright lights in the gloomy darkness. Stuck at home with little hope of full employment, from fast-casual chains to Michelin-starred dining rooms, people who once cooked or served everywhere turned to the best resource for keeping busy and some money to earn: their own knowledge, heritage and creativity. The rise of pop-ups, which are a low barrier to entry for culinary companies, has propelled the laws regarding home food businesses, including One of these was recently passed in Boston, allowing the sale of low-risk foods made at homeand one in Washington, which enables people to sell meals from home.

But a year into the pandemic, successful pop-up holders have reached a pivotal moment in what was considered temporary from day one, as vaccines are available to all adults, or will soon be available to all adults and many states to lift the business restrictions. Some are considering putting down roots as a permanent, full-time business, leaving what they have built and going back to work for others, or trying to balance in the middle by finding steady work while viewing the popup as the side hustle and bustle.

“I had no idea about a business. I just knew I wanted one, ”says Tran of her pre-pandemic dreams of opening a French-style pastry shop one day. “Now I know it has to be.” Lauren’s runaway success of Bánh caught the kind of attention – in terms of opportunities and investments – she thought would last for years, and suddenly faced crucial decisions about her plans as a pastry chef and entrepreneur. But just as the pop-up model brought her overwhelmingly quick success, working for herself gave her the time and income to carefully consider each decision.

When Lupe Flores first sent her friends a message asking if they were interested in buying some of the crispy tacos she used to make for parties, the bartender and drummer just wanted to stay busy while bars and clubs were closed . More than a year later from a permanent location at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle, Flores’s Situ tacos sells the kind of tacos filled with hushwe, Lebanese brown butter meat that Flores ate at her Lebanese grandmother’s table from Mexico; Situ Tacos is named after her.

Flores’ pop-ups had a following big enough that, less than a year after their tacos first sold, the Tractor Tavern, they wanted to get people into the bar and outside while banning live music and concerts are, they invited to take root. “I dragged my feet because starting your own business is scary,” she admits. But the way their business works symbiotically with the bar has been encouraging. The support she saw from chefs, business owners, and other pop-up business owners during the pandemic gave her confidence in people, she says, and “the chutzpah that is needed to get a brick and mortar business in this uncertain world open. ”

While Flores thrives as she returns to the personal interaction she loved as a bartender, Dave Hadley, who was fired from his job as culinary director for a hotel group, welcomed the opportunity to try something less consumer-centric. But when an old chef offered him a kitchen job for $ 13 an hour, Hadley wondered, “What the hell am I doing?”

Instead, he was drawn to a pop-up entrepreneurship. Like any good Jersey boy, he turned to Taylor Ham for help and folded it into a pork bun, egg, and cheese version of the Indian snacks he’d eaten as an adult. Samosa shop showcases the flavors of its Caribbean heritage and works with other companies like a pizza restaurant and a kimchi brand to create combinations that reflect other people’s backgrounds as well. The nontraditional samosas are now available in pop-ups across Denver. Events are announced on Instagram.

Having achieved success so far, Hadley wants to bring the idea to a wider audience. He dreams of making Samosa Shop a frozen food brand that would rival Hot Pockets for freezer space in grocery stores across the country. However, he is not sure about the next steps. “I paid so much fucking money to go to the CIA and get the best education and then work with some of the best people in the country,” he says. “But they don’t teach you how to be successful on your own.” However, he has no intention of being stopped by it. “I look forward to being on this trip without even knowing it. And I think we have to agree to that. “

But not everyone has this luxury or is in the right place in their life to do it. Depending on the location, details and local food laws, some pop-ups operate in a legal gray area that comes with its own risks. Some require a regular paycheck or a specific schedule, and the constant pivots that keep the industry turning in circles, combined with individual situations – financial, personal, or professional – have many pop-up entrepreneurs on opportunity straight to the stability of a regular Returned to the workplace stood up. Some did not find the same sweeping success as Tran or Flores. For others, it just wasn’t the right fit in the long run.

“By running a popup, I learned a lot about my own ability to work and how I like to treat myself when I’m the person in charge,” says Hanna Gregor. The former line chef called her time with a fermented food popup a great use of eight months, but adds, “It just has to be physically demanding.” She tried to work with a partner and switch to a subscription model to reduce the workload on the sales side, but shopping for the bike pop-up became more difficult as orders increased. The upcoming winter in Chicago made it less likely that they could lure customers to outdoor events or just take extra public transit trips to pick up orders as COVID-19 cases increased. At the end of November, the bakery where Gregor had voluntarily baked bread for donations offered her a part-time job, and she works there now. The concept of fermented foods took a back seat, at least temporarily.

“There are many connections that you make when you are the face of something instead of the third chef,” says Gregor. She hopes to take advantage of the flexibility of pop-ups – as the weather warms up, people have contacted her to sell at farmers markets and events. But in her own early stages in the industry, she didn’t feel ready to start a business. While she likes the way pop-ups bypass some of the wilder parts of the traditional brigade system, she feels like she’s getting more from mentoring and peers. “I’m still in the phase of my life when I think I want to learn more,” she says. “I would love to watch people who have done this a decade longer than me.” She hesitates and raises one of the problems that give her a break when she returns to cooking: “Ideally in a place where people are treated like people and make a living.”

Food and travel writer Naomi Tomky is the author of The Pacific Northwest Seafood Cookbook. Carolyn Figel is a freelance artist living in Brooklyn.

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