Photo by Caitlin Abrams
320 Northeast pop-up
When some big music act announces they’re coming to town, like Stevie Wonder or Paul McCartney, I feel glad for us, but that’s about it. You won’t see me jumping online to get tickets. But when I hear about a great food pop-up, dial it up, baby! I know I’m not your average bear, and I get very excited by food news and events, but I was still surprised by some grumbling I’ve seen lately on social media about pop-ups.
After retweeting an announcement of an upcoming pop-up, some followers replied with, “Really, another?” From there trailed responses of fatigue and ennui as far as pop-ups were concerned. Now, I know that no one is as grumpy as they appear on Twitter, just as no one is as happy as they appear on Facebook, but I had to take note: Was this the end of excitement for pop-ups?
That depends on how you see them. Are they merely a fad? Or an evolution? If they’re a fad, they’ll go the way of Zima and naked-lady sushi buffets, and we’ll have to wait for another generation to “discover” the concept again in 20 years and own it with panache. But if they’re an evolution, they might be here for a while.
If you read my piece on 320 Northeast, you’ll probably note that I’m on the side of evolution. Paradigms of eating seem to be shifting a lot lately. Over time, some things endure, like cocktails, and some things evolve, like cocktails. But it’s not just the things we eat and drink that are changing; it’s also how we see dining that’s changing. With the recession in 2008, the dining landscape experienced a general burn and clear. Rules were scrapped, expectations rewritten. Pop-ups, like food trucks, are a direct response to that shifting socio-economic climate, and have provided a new cash model for this next generation of restaurateurs.
Besides just being flashy, hyped events that draw foodist fascination, pop-ups are doing some truly functional heavy lifting, especially for fledgling eateries. The Saint Dinette pop-ups served as menu focus groups and helped keep some cash lines open while the place was under construction. It also brought a taste of St. Paul to Minneapolis when it popped up at Corner Table, reaching into a new community. Other pop-ups not only act as support for the chefs, but also have helped some secure financing for a new concept. For places that are already successful, the pop-up can provide a new way to catch the attention of diners during the slow times, and if exciting enough, to redirect an audience, like HauteDish’s barbecue pop-up in June designed to lure people who might otherwise be seeking rooftops.
In my opinion, I say keep popping! The pop-up is brilliant, and I hope it continues to bring creativity and innovation to the way people view restaurants and dining. Quite honestly, if you have pop-up fatigue, it’s more likely that you have pop-up-hype fatigue. That’s partly my fault, and for that I’m sorry, but there’s no way I’m going to stop getting excited about dinner. And really, would you want me to?