Pop-Ups Go Permanent

Once thought of as a trend, the pop-up appears to be here to stay, especially when 55% of chefs view it as one of the top 10 restaurant concepts for 2018.1 Pop-up restaurants are cropping up more frequently than ever with themes, menus, and concepts that delight diners with their creativity and good tastes. The elements for a successful pop-up seem simple: a commercial kitchen, a killer menu, maybe some fun decor and some top-notch social media. Throw in a celebrity chef (or two) and you have the recipe for the perfect pop-up restaurant. Here’s what’s popping in the world of the pop-ups.

Why a Pop-up?

Entertaining Experience – Today’s restaurant goer wants a complete experience when they go out to dinner, particularly if they’re a Millennial. Some of the most successful pop-ups blend local music or craft beverages that complement the food and theme.

Social Media – Savvy pop-up chefs count on their diners’ willingness to share their meals on Instagram or Snapchat, creating demand and publicity for the next event. The diners also love the bragging rights that come with attending an exclusive event that isn’t a run-of-the-mill night out.

Experimentation Bonus – A pop-up gives chefs the opportunity to have more fun than usual with a menu item. Revamping a menu is very costly for a restaurant especially if a few items don’t go as planned with customers. A pop-up allows for experimentation of a dish or idea to test the market with potentially less risk for the chef or investors.

Pop-ular / Wish we could have popped in to these…

Louise Earl Butcher, a whole animal butcher in Grand Rapids, had a Swine and Wine pop-up featuring, of course, pork and wine. The dinner was five courses, two seatings, and a menu boasting pork and beans (house-made pork bratwurst, marrow beans, apple mostrada), carnitas tacos, and a waffle donut drizzled with maple bacon frosting, blackberry puree, a crown of bacon ice cream, coffee soil and bacon fat caramel!

Food Network Chef Anne Burrell opened a pop-up honoring Cheetos for one week in 2017. The Spotted Cheetah had menu items featuring the beloved orange snack like Flamin’ Hot and White Cheddar Mac n’ Cheetos, Cheetos Sweetos Sweet and Salty Cookies and Cheetos Crusted Fried Pickles and more.

The West Virginia pepperoni roll has made its way to our nation’s capital in the form of a pop-up. Called Pepperoni Chic, this hot spot has 11 varieties of pepperoni rolls, pastas and more. For a taste of what the “miners have dug since the 1920’s”, there are meat and veggie options to satisfy everyone including the Sandy Jo with meat sauce, hot banana peppers and provolone.

Expected to Pop-up / Coming soon

The Lanford Lunchbox , owned and operated by TV’s Roseanne, was recreated as a pop-up at this year’s South by Southwest to honor the show’s revival in late March 2018.  Loose-meat sandwiches (an Iowa standard), pies, coffee and the show’s fictitious root beer, Canoga Beer, will be served. And fans of another TV show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, will have a Chicago pop-up pay tribute to their favorite long running show. Replay Lincoln Park is hosting a pop-up in the shows honor designed like Paddy’s Pub, a location in the show, where they’ll serve themed drinks and eats.

Head to Eventbrite, search “popup” and be treated to a host of pop-up events near you. Consider celebrating spring in Milwaukee with a Vegan Spring Picnic. With a vegan menu of savory and sweet treats and a $15 price tag, this is one pop-up that can’t be beat especially when the menu includes Cap’n Crunch Crusted “Chicken Fried” Tofu on Biscuits with Red Eye Gravy and Sweet Potato Hand Pies with Whipped “Crème.”

We’d be remiss if we didn’t let you in on a chance to play with some Lego’s. One Million Bricks is the name and the number of the childhood toy will be used to construct a bar entirely out of LEGO’s. There will be several of these events around the world, but we know one is coming to in Los Angeles in 2018. We’re clicking our heels (and a few bricks) over this one.

Pop-up 2.0

The next level of pop-ups could very well be “ghost restaurants,” which are delivery-only pop-ups. Ghost restaurants are less costly to operate and much less space is needed since there are zero diners. David Chang first experimented with a ghost restaurant at the now closed Maple, but then started the successful Ando which was subsequently sold to UberEats. Chef Brandon Jew, of San Francisco’s Mister Jiu’s, recently did a pop-up in San Francisco he called Mamahuhu where diners’ meals were delivered through food delivery service, Caviar. The menu featured duck, tofu flatbread sandwiches, salads and Tingly Cabbage Chips and flagship dessert Black Sesame Cake. Mamahuhu is a test for a future full restaurant and more popups from Chef Jew are anticipated.

Be on the lookout for a pop-up near you but in the meantime pop over and check out our recipes for some inspiration.




  1. https://www.restaurant.org/Restaurant/media/Restaurant/SiteImages/News%20and%20Research/Whats%20Hot/Whats_Hot_Culinary_Forecast_2018.pdf