Popping up for business
Pop-up restaurants have become a tool of the trade for international tourism associations and high profile operators with large budgets and the desire to make a marketing splash.
But small operators can also take the pop-up approach if they want to avoid commercial suicide by testing a new concept without committing to a permanent location.
Omid Jaffari, the creative director behind Botanical Cuisine, operates a pop-up dining venue called Nettle, which has been held in laneways, factories, and studios in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Byron Bay and Dubai.
Jaffari practices “botanical gastronomy” – or raw foodism. He doesn’t use ovens, microwaves or stoves in the preparation of produce, which is a mixture of organic, biodynamic and wild.
He’s worked in restaurants for about 15 years, including the Riverside Café in London and venues in Canada, Japan, and Buenos Aires but became bored with eating the same type of dishes in similar restaurants.
He wanted to inject some theatre into the dining experience.
“Right now we are testing the market and testing this new alternative style of eating,” Jaffari says.
He hopes to open Nettle as an established restaurant in about 18 months, possibly in Collingwood, Melbourne.
Asked about the benefits of a pop-up, Jaffari says: “Right now as a pop-up restaurant it’s gaining its momentum, it’s getting its name out there before it opens up.”
A permanent restaurant serving raw food would not have been sustainable immediately, he says.
Jaffari has held about 10 Nettle degustation events. As yet he doesn’t make a profit. But he’s not out of pocket either because he hasn’t taken out a lease on a permanent venue.
The pop-up approach has proved that his concept has a future.
“We expected to attract a lot of health food people but a lot of high profile people in the food industry have been coming along too,” Jaffari says.
Mark Free is the brains behind Black Coffee @ No Fixed Address – an “ongoing, ever-evolving experiment showcasing outstanding coffees in environments that are both accessible and exciting to the public".
“Black Coffee serves black, brewed coffee wherever and whenever possible. No milk, no sugar, no espresso and no bullshit,” Free says.
The 25 year old doesn’t use an Espresso machine. His primary tool of the trade is an AeroPress coffee maker.
Free says he took the pop-up approach because he had an idea, but no money.
“I’m quite young, I don’t have a history of high risk business ventures and I don’t have rich parents or anything, I can’t just drop all my money on a whim that may or may not work and would certainly at any rate take a while to get off the ground,” he explains.
“With a pop-up if a concept has legs then you can grow it quite organically.”
That’s what happened with Black Coffee. The business is breaking even and building, Free says.
There has been between 15 and 20 events, mainly in Melbourne and Sydney.
Free believes it’s important to have the geographic reach that a pop-up has if you’re testing a niche idea.
But as well as testing the market, he’s also testing himself to see if Black Coffee is something to wants to operate in a permanent location.
“There is an appeal to having a permanent space but there is just as much appeal to remaining a free agent. I’m kind of at odds with that,” he says.
“That’s the a dilemma of the pop-up operator … some days I wish I didn’t have to pack the car at the end of the day.”
Other challenges of having no fixed address include finding fresh venues and getting the word out about each new event.
“Basically when I said I’m going to start doing this I committed to being an event manager for 52 events a year,” he says with a laugh.