In the world of food and retailing, you never know what's going to pop up next -- literally. Two chefs in Oakland, California are demonstrating just how such a concept can work by setting out their wares in an ex-streetcar depot in what the San Francisco Chronicle described as "an otherwise unremarkable neighborhood."
Open from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on a Wednesday evening in May, the Pop-Up General Store was not expected to re-open for several more weeks, so the 200+ shoppers who turned up left with their bags crammed full of "restaurant quality" food to eat in the comfort of their own homes.
Chris Lee and Samin Nosrat came up with the idea of selling the dishes they most enjoyed cooking directly to consumers after Eccolo, the restaurant where they both worked as chefs, closed down. Along with chefs from other restaurants loved by locals, they set up shop selling exceptional food made from exceptional ingredients. The offerings include heat-and-serve and frozen dishes.
The Chronicle said that Mr. Lee and Ms. Nosrat's store "is part of the new phenomenon of temporary eateries, farm stands and even one 'underground market' that spring up here and there around the Bay Area, sometimes regularly in the same location, sometimes not."
Ms. Nosrat told the Chronicle they had no plan initially but didn't want people to forget them while they decided what to do next. Their objective is to "create community and cook the food we love to cook and share it with people - without all the externalities of the restaurant ... When it's just between us and the customers, something more direct is spoken to people -- they can see it and feel it and taste it ... So it just magically happened."
During their first session in January, the pair were on their own and filled just 28 orders. The May session had more than a dozen stalls. Prices were high but so was enthusiasm. Customers said they were willing to pay for quality and wanted "to support their own." One made the fairly obvious observation that it still costs less than eating out.
That said, the project isn't yet profitable although Ms. Nosrat is concerned that "building too quickly might jeopardize quality." It is far more important to "develop the sustainable food system" and help the cooks "make their products known." Fine-tuning with pantry items rather than expansion is one such development. Others may pop up in due course.
Discussion Questions: What do you think of the potential of local food-centered pop-up stores? Are chefs and consumers in other parts of the U.S. likely to be interested in such a niche outlet?
Are chefs and consumers in other parts of the U.S. likely to be interested in the type of pop-up food stores described in the San Francisco Chronicle article?