For a chef, a pop-up restaurant means exposing themselves to new stimuli and opportunities. For food lovers it represents an experience to be tried immediately or never again. The format put down roots in the USA, spread to Europe, and is spreading still. Here’s how it works.
The classic restaurant can wait. The trend now leads to the pop-up restaurant, here today, who knows tomorrow, so better try it quick! In recent years, the idea imported from the United States is being increasingly implemented in Europe, where it attracts an ever more curious clientele, and also a growing number of aspiring chefs. How come? Because with this formula they are able to test the commercial viability of a restaurant concept before its market launch, and even star-studded maestros are sometimes tempted to propose an exclusive and unique event… unrepeatable because it is temporary. Let’s investigate further.
What is a pop-up restaurant?
A pop-up restaurant is in some ways like any other restaurant, but is different from conventional restaurants in these respects:
- its location: a pop-up restaurant is often situated in an unorthodox place. On the roof of a skyscraper, in an ex-industrial site, or in a private home, a shop, a garage, an ex-railway station…
- its temporary nature: a pop-up restaurant may be open for just a day, for a week or at the most for a month or two. Or it may be part of an ongoing event, as in the case of the Expo Milano, when the rooftop of Palazzo Beltrami – looking out over Piazza della Scala – played host to Priceless, an eco-sustainable design structure where for six months 35 masterchefs took turns to create 24 meals at lunch and dinner, offering unique and highly appealing “limited edition” culinary experiences.
This twin aspects are enough to make it clear that deciding to dine in a temporary restaurant is a very different matter to going to eat in a conventional restaurant or pizzeria. So what is the philosophy behind a pop-up restaurant?
Pop-up restaurants and the “Wow!” effect
Along with the idea of offering diners the opportunity of leaping at the chance of trying a rare and fleeting experience, the success of the temporary restaurant trend has a lot to do with their name: pop-up.
Do you remember the children’s illustrated books whose pages would sometimes conceal folded 3D effects that leaped up at you as you turned the page? The same principle of sudden surprise works with these restaurants. Because a pop-up is, literally, an “animated” restaurant, in the sense that it jumps unexpectedly into life, out of the blue, generating a “surprise effect” unthinkable for a normal restaurant. After all, a pop-up restaurant can remain a secret until the last moment: the chef or owner may announce the location shortly before opening, attracting clients through online communications.
The first pop-up restaurants to take the world’s food enthusiasts by surprise appeared in major US cities and European capitals: from New York to Seattle and London to Paris, where on the roof of the Palais de Tokyo a “transportable” mini-restaurant was installed for 12 people at a time, with a breathtaking view of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. That was certainly pretty “wow!”…
Recently, in an industrial loft in Düsseldorf, Michelin star chef René Schudel – the extremely popular host of Swiss TV’s shows «Funky Kitchen Club», «Flavorites» and «Schudel on the Rocks” – carried out ten exclusive pop-up culinary events where he revealed many of his gastronomic skills and secrets to the numerous diners, plus invaluable advice and tips on professional cooking.
A new food and restoration culture, in other words, officialized in 2011 by the first Restaurant Day in Helsinki, a culinary encounter/happening where restauranteers and chefs can open their space and offer their menus to the public, for one single day only. An initiative which in just five years spread progressively, involving people from all over the world, including Italy.