Monday, January 9, 2012

Chefs Looking to Start Small Carve Out Temporary Quarters in Established Kitchens

by Naomi Martin

Facing high risk, stiff competition and the need for expensive startup capital, entrepreneurs opening new restaurants in New Orleans have never had it easy. But now, with the recession causing banks to tighten lending, financing a new restaurant can be harder than ever.

 Enter the "pop-up restaurant."

A chef "pops up" a temporary restaurant -- usually just one night a week -- inside the shell of another restaurant during its off-hours. Using the host restaurant's silverware, linens and cooking equipment, the pop-up's staff serves customers a limited menu of usually five options. Having swept through New York and Los Angeles, the phenomenon is now emerging in New Orleans.

For some chefs, pop-ups are a way to test-drive the local market and gauge demand before investing in a full-scale restaurant. For others, it's a way to try out life as a chef, while still maintaining a day job.

"Eleven years ago I opened up Dante's, and that was a hell of a challenge," said Eman Loubier, owner of Dante's Kitchen in Uptown New Orleans. "But the timing then was better than it is now. Banks were a little easier with loaning. It was a little easier to get financing."

Loubier recently opened a pop-up restaurant called Noodles and Pie, serving items like braised duck noodle soup and honey-pine nut pie with lavender whipped cream. Noodles and Pie opens Monday nights inside Coulis, a breakfast restaurant Uptown that typically closes at 2 p.m.

"It was really just a matter of necessity, not us wanting to do something trendy or cool," said Mike Friedman, who runs Pizza Delicious every Sunday and Thursday night out of a shared Bywater kitchen.

So far, there are about a dozen pop-ups on any given week in the city. Many are so popular that they routinely sell out of food within hours, a lofty goal that many traditional restaurants can only dream of.
That popularity owes much to the rise of social media. Each pop-up has hundreds of Facebook fans and Twitter followers, making it easy to update a mass audience on the upcoming week's location, hours of operation and menu. Even just a few years ago, it would have been nearly impossible for an unofficial restaurant to attract enough customers to stay viable, said chef Peter Vazquez, who runs a pop-up out of Stein's Deli on Magazine Street every Sunday night.

Read the complete story here.