Popping open specialty restaurants

Listening to Krater 96 Radio one morning, I learned about “pop-up restaurants” – small, short-term, shoe-string restaurants which focus on food, not service or ambiance. These restaurants take advantage of closed restaurants or underused kitchens, popping up in unexpected places. Some have self-service tables, where you get your own cutlery. All of them allow chefs to be more creative and try out new ideas.

Then I thought about seasonal stores at the malls – stores which open for a few months during the holidays, like the perennial Hickory Farms outlets, Price Busters’ The Seasonal Store, and Toys “R” Us Express. It’s a win for everyone: malls can lease unused space, stores have a great location, and shoppers have access to seasonal products.

Why not merge the two ideas – pop-up restaurants and seasonal stores? The University of Hawaii, local culinary schools, and even the Hawaii Visitor’s Bureau could partner to create incubator restaurants and “culinary parks” to help local restaurants and chefs.

Here are just three ways that short-term restaurants can help our economy:

* Incubator restaurant spaces. A start-up restaurant would be stocked with basic cooking appliances and furniture. Entrepreneurs could sign 1, 2, or 3 month leases to try out a new restaurant, without taking a big financial risk. If it’s successful, the owner would have some credibility with potential investors and bankers, and could look for a permanent restaurant space.

* Seasonal or themed restaurants. Existing restaurants could offer short-term, seasonal dining experiences or try out new dining themes. Chefs could focus on specialty foods like moon cakes, mochi, or manju or complete menus for Chinese New Year, Mardi Gras, Bon Festival, Oktoberfest…

* Highlight up-and-coming chefs. What a great way to showcase recent graduates – by letting them run their own restaurant and prove themselves to future employers. Chefs can even build a following – hungry fans who are willing to follow them from one restaurant to another.

It could be a great idea for Hawaii – helping start-up restaurants, promoting local chefs and cuisines, and building Hawaii as a unique culinary destination. Are you ready to eat?

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One Comment on “Popping open specialty restaurants”

  1. March 2011 Update: Congratulations to the Hawaii Fashion Incubator, which has run with this idea for the fashion and art industry. From March 18-27, 2011, they are opening a Spring POP-UP Fashion Incubator at Ala Moana Center. There is The COOP, a local design boutique; as well as fashion classes and workshops, designer showcases and trunk shows, crafting for kids and families, and networking and community events. For more information, visit http://hawaiifashion.org/pop-up.

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