Pop-Up Paradise: Temporary Eateries Let Restaurateurs Test Their Wares

By Patti Brandt Burgess
The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) For those with mad culinary chops but no bank account to back it up, pop-up restaurants may be the perfect solution.


These temporary restaurants can pop up in a winery, an empty eatery, someone’s home or, like several in the Grand Traverse area, in an establishment that may or may not serve its own food.

They can be for one or two nights at a time, like Conifer — which has popped up twice so far — or they can be a regular gig, like Glendale Ave., which serves casual foods at two different locations every Sunday and Wednesday.

Pop-ups can even be open daily, like the Rose & Fern Cafe, whose owner is working toward owning her own restaurant.

“It’s an opportunity for an entrepreneur to showcase their skills without capital, without collateral, without brick and mortar,” said Becky Tranchell, who runs Rose & Fern at Potter’s Bakery on Eighth Street.

The cafe opened about six weeks ago and has Tranchell serving up about a dozen items that include the Morning Missile, a seven ingredient-stuffed tortilla, and the Pesty Chicken, a sandwich with feta, cucumber and pepper jam on focaccia bread.

The cafe is now just a few tables in a space with a small kitchen that the Potters have rented out for smaller events such as kids’ birthday parties and cake-making classes.

Tranchell, 30, hopes to have financing in place to make the restaurant her own by the end of the year. For now she is paid an hourly wage by the Potters and doesn’t take home the profits. She also doesn’t pay rent, doesn’t buy the food and the menu is her own.

“It’s eliminated risk for me,” said Tranchell, who was an instructor at Northwestern Michigan College’s Great Lakes Culinary Institute.

Kathy Potter, who with her husband Mike has owned the bakery since 1985, says they were given a business opportunity with the family-owned bakery and now want to give Tranchell that same opportunity.

“It just seemed to fit,” Potter said. “We weren’t competing against each other. We were complementing each other.”

Brothers Michael and Patrick Evans have held two pop-up events for their Conifer restaurant, which does not yet have a home. One event was held in the former Gaijin restaurant space on Front Street and another at Bonobo Winery on the Old Mission Peninsula.

Both of the Evanses are from Traverse City and graduated as chefs from the NMC Culinary Institute. They spent several years in San Francisco, where they honed their craft and gained experience before returning to the area. They’re now serving up such dishes as duck with coal-roasted sweet potatoes and egg custard with sprouted lentil salad.

Holding pop-ups is a way to get your name out there and build a following without having to invest the capital in a restaurant, said Michael Evans.

“We know Traverse is a foodie destination,” he said. “We always had a plan to come back and start our own restaurant. Doing pop-ups is kind of the first step in it all.”

Bray McCabe and his wife Brittney run Glendale Ave., a pop-up that serves breakfast foods every Sunday at The Little Fleet and dinners every Wednesday night at Mammoth Distilling Cocktail Lounge, both of which are in downtown Traverse City.

The McCabe’s serve up casual fare such as double smash burgers with egg, Korean double-fried chicken wings and their latest concoction, Vietnamese bahn mi hot dogs.

McCabe is the manager of Folgarelli’s and Brittney is a nanny. While having their own restaurant is a long-term goal, a food truck is likely the next step, McCabe said. For now, having a pop-up gives them a little more freedom and a little less risk, he said.

“It lets us figure out what works and what doesn’t work,” Bray McCabe said. “If we don’t have the best day in the world it’s not going to break us because we still have our nine-to-five jobs.”

Many pop-ups are held as a way for an establishment to bring in new customers.

Stuart Hickman is hospitality director for Mammoth Distilling, which has been open in Traverse City for about a year and does not serve food. Hickman not only loves the food the McCabes offer, he loves that customers who might not otherwise come through the doors are exposed to Mammoth’s craft beers and distillery products.

“It gives our customer base the option to have food with drinks,” Hickman said. “It also gives us the opportunity to market ourselves to people who didn’t know we were there.”

It’s an added bonus that Glendale Ave. self-promotes through social media, he said.

Tranchell said she already has regulars, a good sign for when Rose & Fern becomes permanent.

“I’m realizing that there’s a lot of excitement and the market’s ready,” she said.

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