ALAN RICHMAN, FORMER EDITOR/ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER OF WHOLE FOODS MAGAZINE, IS A NEW JERSE Y-BASED FREELANCE WRITER
FOCUSING ON FOOD AND NU TRI TION. CON TAC T ARKR@COMCAST.NET.
Attracted by the creativity and freedom of a pop-
up, he says, “The menu is designed specially for each
event, and the opportunity to pull great chefs out of
their kitchens to work beside me is enticing. This
also presents an avenue for me to get my food out to
people who want a new experience. There is a financial
driver, too, as you don’t need a large investment in a
permanent restaurant to get started.”
Unlike many—perhaps most—pop-up promoters,
Chandler doesn’t currently own a fixed-location
restaurant, and throws most of his energy into Pop-Up
Tucson. Also unlike others, he is willing to take his
show on the road. In 2017, events were held in Denver,
Sonoma, California, Austin, Texas, and Sedona,
Arizona, as well as his home city. Several venues are
awaiting dates, and more exotic foreign climes may be
in the offing.
Presumably, Chandler is making money, but profit
isn’t the main motive for all pop-up players. Irby, who favors more modest presentations,
says, “I wouldn’t tell you that a pop-up is extremely profitable once you account for the
time you need to put into it. One pop-up might require an hour of shopping, five or six
hours of prep time, two to three hours loading up, transporting everything, setting up,
cleaning up, packing up and unloading. This is all on top of the four to five hours of the
There are also direct out-of-pocket expenses, he says. Some restaurants may charge
a percentage of the sales for use of their space, but he usually pays about $50 a night.
Add in the cost of food—$100 to $150—and help at $10 an hour, plus advertising, $30.
“I’ve never lost money, but I might be walking away with $100 after working 15 to
20 hours—even if the sales are $500 for a few hours,” Irby says. “I can easily justify the
blood, sweat and tears, however, because at the end of the day, I’m building a brand and
a following while getting the chance to perfect my concept and vision.”
Soma at Kamonegi says that, generally speaking, it is difficult to make money with
a pop-up, and the most lucrative are those with a longstanding reputation. “In these
cases, venues, or even other restaurants, will shoulder some of the costs of the pop-
up—the food cost or omission of a facility rental fee,” she says. She adds that lucrative
pop-ups almost always have prix fixe menus that are more than $100 a head, which will
pay for labor, food and space rental.
“Another cost that is sizable but often not factored in is the added time shouldered
by chefs who often have to prepare the food on their own without the help of a kitchen
team or timesaving kitchen equipment,” says Soma. “Given this, it’s hard to quantify
whether the chef is truly breaking even or not.
“I’m grateful for all my pop-up opportunities, because they have allowed me to
build a supportive community and network with other diners, purveyors and chefs.
Each time I work on a pop-up with other chefs, it has been a positive and beneficial
exchange where I’m able to learn some new techniques that I wouldn’t have picked up
just working every day in the same restaurant.”
POP UP PALOOZA
Taste of Chicago is a five-day-long food festival that takes
place in the city’s historic Grant Park. The event, held
July 5-9 this year, brought together 16 pop-up editions
of established Windy City eateries offering a wide array
of ethnic specialties. In addition, each night featured
a different celebrity chef presenting special meals,
including: Paul Fehribach, Big Jones, who cooked Bristol
Bay sockeye salmon croquettes and Kilgus Farmstead
mutton in Kentucky black barbecue sauce; Chico Vilchez,
Nacional 27, who ended his three-course offering with
a mini Mexican milkshake spiked with Kahlúa and
cayenne; Oliver Poilevey, Le Bouchon, with a tribute to
his father, the late Jean-Claude Poilevey; the kitchen
staff of American Girl Place Cafe, which offered brunch;
and Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark, Parachute, who
whipped up a pork belly/mung bean pancake followed by
grilled swordfish, tomatoes and nam prik.