Pop-up Restaurants A-Popping During Art Basel

Dec 5, 2012

Michael's Genuine Food and Drink staff put the final touches on the pop-up MGFD Cafe at Design Miami.
Credit Jose Felix Perez

Along with the ever-expanding constellation of art fairs and gallery events during Art Basel, pop-ups are mushrooming at this time of year, including bars, shops and restaurants.

Pop-up restaurants have been trending in Miami and around the country for years now. The term "pop-up" restaurant has typically meant that the eating location is temporary, whether it's open one night or multiple nights.

Infographic on the success of pop-up restaurants.
Credit Intuit/Column Five

Read the full infographic.

Pop-up restaurants often take over an existing restaurant space during an underutilized time. This is what Giorgio Rapicavoli and Alex Cassanova did in February with their pop-up restaurant Eating House. They served dinner in the same space as Ponce Café, which was a bakery-café open for lunch and breakfast. The duo ultimately bought the space and established Eating House permanently after they saw that their customer numbers were large enough and consistent enough to sustain a permanent space.

Pop-ups are a good way for newer and younger chefs to test the waters in their own kitchen space. Pop-ups are also a way for newer restaurateurs and chefs to prove their worth to potential investors. There are also opportunities for menu creativity and restaurant branding.

If pop-ups provide branding opportunities, these opportunities magnify during Art Basel with the numbers of people who are out and about, especially moneyed tourists. Like performance art, pop-ups are ephemeral. Part of the appeal of pop-up restaurants is their novelty, although if you are from out of town, everything is novel. However, for locals there is also the novelty appeal of something fleeting. Marketers have long capitalized on this appeal of the ephemeral.

Sometimes half the fun is seeing a familiar restaurant in an unlikely place (as with some art pieces) although with the number of pop-ups appearing at art fairs and throughout Miami, being an"unlikely"pop-up restaurant during Basel is becoming a tougher proposition.

During Art Basel, pop-ups take on different forms. Some restaurants are opening smaller, temporary iterations of their permanent locations at the art fairs. Alejandro Ortiz, Aniece Meinhold and Cesar Zapata (now known as The Pious Pig Restaurant Group) opened one of the first pop-up restaurants in Miami, Phuc Yea! and have since launched permanent restaurants, The Federal and Acme Bakery & Cafe. They're opening a reprise of the original pop-up (this time called Phuc Mei!) at Scope art fair.

SushiSamba is taking over the old Sustain space in Midtown Miami, right across from many of the art fairs, during Art Basel. For Matt Johnson, managing partner at SushiSamba, the advantages are numerous:

A pop-up for SushiSamba allows us to have a presence from Lincoln Road all the way to Midtown, covering the most heavily populated areas during Art Basel. This weekend is considered one of Miami’s most celebrated weekends of the year and as big supporters of the arts it allows us to get involved with a unique and conceptual initiative. It also a great way to reach new people and bring visibility to the brand; it helps build momentum and excitement for our Coral Gables opening. The downside is that it is a tremendous amount of work for a short six days; but it is a labor of love and we enjoy every minute of it.

Other newer businesses hope to generate excitement for an upcoming opening. For example, First Trust bar anticipates opening in Miami next fall. Bartenders Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix, already operate the Los Angeles bars La Descarga and Harvard & Stone. Art Basel provides an opportunity for First Trust to get people excited about their enterprise in a new city.

"Whether it's art, food, or beverage, Art Basel attracts the most discerning people from all over the world," says First Trust partner, Philip Levie, "These are the people that we cater to as they are open and appreciative of the way we approach our craft. The challenge during Art Basel is standing out from the crowd but that's what drives us." First Trust is doing an invitation-only pop-up version of their bar on Sunday night.

Some restaurants expand hours and call their temporary serving times pop-ups, as at Macchialina with its pop-up brunch and showcase of the work of artist Giorgio Casu or at Bloom Wynwood with its lunches during Art Basel.

See a map of some of the pop-up restaurants during Art Basel Miami.

Related: Some local food lovers are feeling pop-up fatigue, as evidenced by a Twitter conversation yesterday.

This is a guest post from WLRN contributor Trina Sargalski's food and drink blog, Miami Dish. You can also follow her at @MiamiDish on Twitter.