Most everyone agrees: pop ups are a good thing. While the trend itself has been largely co-opted by the very brick and mortar restaurants it once so efficiently attempted to compete against, the individual restaurant, built quickly, serving traditional and experimental food that could not be served in more conventional places, still provides value.
Most everyone. The largest holdout group are the owners and managers of suitable spaces, often currently “cold” restaurants who have their doubts. Short term rental seems, at least at first glance, a bad investment and management strategy.
Not so. After dozens of negotiations with management and rental companies, real estate executors, and individual proprietors the objections thrown in my direction are most always the same – while the restaurant is “hot” it won’t sell. While it’s occupied it can not be shown. And, most of all, a fear of damages and vandalism. Those objections might be strong enough to stop newcomers to the business of non-permanent food service operations. Luckily arguments for pop up restaurants are much stronger and much more persuasive.
“Cold” restaurants rot. Inevitably the smell and residue of a former food service operation will attract critters and pests who will, no matter how clean the place, start camping the nooks and crannies of uninhabited kitchens and dining rooms. New owners often spend tens of thousands of dollars to remove those occupants and to prevent recurrence.
Pop ups are run by enthusiasts, not fly-by-night restaurateurs. The financial gain of such operations is low to non-existent (unless, as stated above, the pop-up is just another arm of an established dining operation). Such freaks of the culinary world will scrub, scrape, glue, and trap until their restaurant is free of any and all critters. Occasional occupancy is a good thing, too, most pests avoid being around humans.
The market for restaurants for lease or purchase is massive. At this point over 400 locations are available in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area alone, from stands and booths to high-end dining operations near Knox Street (fine dining area in posh part of town).
Pop ups bring in critics, diners, foodies, and industry insiders. This puts locations on a map. The value of a location is best determined by a successful three month run rather than a failed former operation. Industry insiders, cooks, chefs, and restaurateurs, are always on the lookout for new challenges, bringing them to the pop up instead of hoping they’ll find an ad in the papers is an extremely successful way of marketing real estate. Of the six pop ups I have worked or ran in the past three years, four were leased or purchased mere weeks later by operators who mentioned they had eaten at the pop up and fallen in love with the place.
Income from pop ups is generally higher than the tax writeoff on an empty building. Work on the building adds desirability.
It’s not uncommon for us to paint the dining room, to resurface tables, and to employ a professional cleaning crew before, during, and after the pop up. Those are actual value adds. And while many pop up agreements wind up small revenue shares with an even smaller premium, making a quick few dollars on a pop up is better than losing money on a dead property.
Those three areas conspire to make pop ups a great value proposition for anyone in charge of a “cold” location. Arguing this before a skeptical and not rarely adversarial seller or leasing officer is a whole ‘nother ballpark, but as someone who braves the fire, steel, and blood of a kitchen every night I am sure cooks and chefs intent on opening a pop up in 2012 will persevere. Just don’t forget to let me know so I can come and eat…