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Tips to make a pop-up restaurant work

The trend of insta-restaurants — banquet rooms, boutiques, art galleries and even living rooms converted into foodie havens, for a day or two — continues to gain momentum in the city. With two such events coming up this weekend, The GUIDE looks at what it takes to manage these 'pop'ular affairs

“A true taste of what it’s like to run a restaurant in India,” is how Chef Jehangir Mehta summed up the experience of showcasing his culinary skills for a pop-up held at The Tasting Room, last year. While Mumbai loved Mehta, the chef who runs restaurants in NYC’s fashionable East Village and TriBeCa areas, was stunned by the incredible response he received and the city’s hospitality. But he admits that the event did entail its fair share of challenges.

The Oh-So-Famous Garage Sale by Small Fry Co was held in October last year and featured pop-up food counters that stocked various goodies

Duck and cover
“I was told that duck was readily available in Mumbai, but on the day of the event, when we required 15 ducks, the supplier could provide only two,” Mehta offers, by way of example.

The assistants managed to procure another three and, “a couple of chefs who were coming to eat at the restaurant were kind enough to bring raw ducks with them,” Mehta says. His tone is perceptibly strained, even at the recollection.

With his ample experience in this domain, restaurateur AD Singh, however, hasn’t come up against similar challenges with his Thalassa pop-up (Goa’s popular Greek restaurant’s cuisine continues to be showcased at Olive, Mahalakshmi, till mid-September). The only drawback, Singh lists is, “We’ve had to turn away patrons who want Olive fare.”

What works, what doesn’t
For Singh, this pop-up presented an opportunity to dispel rumours that were resulting in a loss of business. “There was a lot of speculation about expiring leases of restaurants in the entire Turf Club area, which was keeping customers away,” Singh reveals, adding, “We felt that a pop-up with Thalassa would re-energise the property, as it’s a
popular brand.”

Thalassa was fortunate, in that the association with Olive afforded it the resources of an established fine-dining restaurant. Mangal Dalal, who runs culinary consulting firm Cellar Door Hospitality with Chef Nachiket Shetye, tells us that renting a multi-purpose space for a pop-up comes with a host of other problems. Their recent success was a three-day pop-up of New Delhi’s celebrity chef Ritu Dalmia’s restaurant Diva. It was held at House of Tales, a banquet room in Colaba, which meant they had to buy equipment. “Only the equipment required for run-of-the-mill banqueting functions are available on lease,” explains Dalal.

The price must be right
One would imagine the popularity of these events is, at least, partly because they provide a low-cost alternative to expensive, long-term property leases. Dalal, whose company will assist Italian chef Alessio Mecozzi with a pop-up at The Ambassador Hotel next month, tells us that these events present their own pricing challenge. “It was a real challenge to work within the limitations of a modestly-sized kitchen and prepare enough to cover the costs,” he says, though the Diva dinner cost over `2,000 per head.


Diners at House of Tales, Kala Ghoda, the venue for Cellar Door Hospitality’s pop-up version of Chef Ritu Dalmia’s restaurant Diva

Shop and save
Food-culture events, which showcase several F&B brands under one roof, provide a wallet-friendly alternative. Bandra-based Insia Lacewalla, director, Small Fry Co, a company which has managed several such events successfully, tells us: “With 20 vendors under one roof, we have a massive footfall. But the challenge for us is to reach out to new F&B brands and also to shoppers and foodies who haven’t got a taste of such an experience before.”

Lacewalla hopes to bring both food lovers and home shoppers under one roof on Republic Day with a Tea Party at Sanctum, a lifestyle-store in Khar. “Shoppers can check out the merchandise while they sip on fresh brews by Tea Trunk — including a special Saffron Kawa — and savour freshly baked goods from the kitchens of various home-based chefs,” adds Lacewalla.

And, on January 25, Lacewalla aspires to give SoBo a taste of Bombay Local, the F&B event that was a hit in Bandra: “Aside from goodies from Between Breads, The Pantry, Love and Cheesecake, Life Ki Recipe, Raw Pressery, Terra Farms, Good Juicery, Bawi Bride, Sugar Overdose and Ashey’s; we have a live burger counter, a waffle station, the best hot chocolate in town and even wine from Fratelli.” To see how it works, all you have to do is drop by.

Pop-up checklist

>> Tea Party at Sanctum
On: January 26, 3 pm to 7 pm
At: Sanctum, 19th Road, off Khar Danda, Khar (W).
Log on to: www.smallfryco.com and www.facebook.com/smallfryco

>> Bombay Local
On: January 25, 3 pm to 8 pm
At: 1/29 Studio, Kamal Mansion, Level two, Arthur Bunder road, Colaba.
Log on to: www.smallfryco.com / www.facebook.com/smallfryco

>> Thalassa
till: Mid-September
At: Amateur Riders Club Building, Mahalaxmi Racecourse, gate number 8, Mahalaxmi.
Call: 40859595

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