Keep It Poppin'
No longer did “pop-up” refer to annoying Internet ads, children’s books, or a VH1 show from the ’90s – it became synonymous with the trend of small food businesses setting up shop in a larger restaurant or cafe.
Pop-ups allow cash-strapped cooks to test their idea with little risk. Whether they start up to provide a type of food that’s missing in the city’s culinary landscape or because they are industry folks wanting to do their own thing, the pop-up format allows ideas to thrive.
As pop-ups have evolved, people are committing to their craft, proving this isn’t a passing trend, but a way to launch a business or try something different. I invited five purveyors – including my own venture, Rice Paper Scissors with my partner Katie Kwan – for a pop-up potluck. We chatted (and ate!) with some of the city’s most beloved pop-ups (a couple that are now brick-and-mortar restaurants) to see what’s next on their plate.
Katie: “Our goal is to infuse our food with our travels. We love to learn about people, their food, and why they love it. We’re not done learning, so we're going on trips to Orange County and New Orleans, as well as to Vietnam.
It’s not enough to keep it all to ourselves, so we want to start documenting the things we eat and experience on our website – and letting people actually taste what we’ve learned through the food we
serve at our pop-ups and dinners. At this point, a long-term goal is a brick-and-mortar. In the meantime, exploring and sharing is our priority.”
Banh Mi Thursdays at Mojo Bicycle Cafe, 639 A Divisadero St. and full pop-up restaurant at various warehouses.
Evan: “The reason we started as a pop-up was to prepare ourselves for a full-scale restaurant – but be able to share our food with the public. We got a space on 24th and Shotwell, where El Tonayense used to be. What’s next is going to be all new problems. We have to hire and train staff, and create revenue to pay them.”
Leo: “We have to make a leap from serving once a week to almost everyday. I only know Wise Sons as a pop-up; now it’s time to figure out how to be a restaurant.”
Wise Sons Delicatessen, 3150 24th St.
Dion: “In addition to Reform Club, I work at a real restaurant. Doing our pop-up is nice because it’s a more creative outlet, with limited risks. If you fuck up, you have a good laugh about it over a shot and a beer.
We want to move into doing a pop-up bar and see if we can bring our concept and drinks to different
bars. It'd be fun to do a crossover between pop-ups, like Seoul Patch vs. Mission Chinese Food.”
Specchio, 2331 Mission St.
Robert: “We started working with other pop-ups in our new space. We did a secret event with The Boba Guys, who make super luxurious boba. Some of our own workers are going to do a Swedish-Japanese pop-up called Fika, which means coffee break in Swedish. We also feature desserts from San Flan, who used to pop-up in our pop-up at The Corner.
Having been a pop-up first and now a full brick-and-mortar, we felt it was critical to pass the baton and encourage other ventures inside of ours. We can do so by trying to be fair and cooperative and by working with others on equitable terms and encouraging them to keep going.”
Ken Ken Ramen, 3378 18th St.
Richard: “We were doing a pop-up in Doctor’s Lounge when the owner asked if we would be interested in buying his other business, Big Nate’s. It was that simple.
This year we want to settle into our new place and show people that our neighborhood is not what it used to be – it's something better. I
feel extremely lucky. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – as long as we can get people to understand that we're not cooking cat heads.”
CatHead's BBQ, 1665 Folsom St.
Rice Paper Scissors on Thursdays, 6:30 - 10:30 p.m. at Mojo Bicycle Cafe. http://www.ricepaperscissors.com.
Wise Sons Delicatessen on Wednesday – Friday, 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Sunday, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. at their brick-and-mortar space. http://wisesonsdeli.com.
Reform Club on select Sundays at Specchio. Find out their next pop-up date and make reservations at http://reformclubsf.com/reservations.html.
Ken Ken Ramen on Thursday – Saturday, 6 - 10 p.m. at their brick-and-mortar restaurant. http://eatkenkenramen.com.
CatHead's BBQ on Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. and Wednesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. at their brick-and-mortar restaurant. http://catheadsbbq.com.
This story originally ran in The Bold Italic's Vol. 2: What's Next? magazine, which is available for purchase as a single issue or with a subscription here.