Fashionistas are already accustomed to scoring coveted items at pop-up stores, and now equally obsessed diners are flocking to pop-up restaurants in search of the next new thing. From LudoBites and Test Kitchen in Los Angeles to The Feast in New York City, chefs are taking over spaces for limited runs, offering customers innovative dishes in a buzzy, usually sold-out atmosphere. Because, as we all know, the only thing foodies love more than amazing food is the idea that they discovered it first.
"There's the draw of exclusivity," says L.A.-based Linden Goh, who has covered pop-ups LudoBites, Wolvesden and Test Kitchen in his food blog Gastronomnom. "Dining in a place few will get to eat at or even hear about and which may be gone tomorrow. It's changed the way many people think about dining out."
It's fun for restaurateurs as well. "I thought a pop-up would motivate our staff, cooks, and front of house—it wasn't money-driven," says Stephen Starr, who hosted a three-night stint with chef Aimee Olexy at Washington Square in Philadelphia last summer. The venture was so successful that the pair will be opening a permanent restaurant in that space. "People clamored to get in because it was so limited," Starr says. "I used to be in the music business and it's become almost like promoting a show. And people are excited by that."
It doesn't hurt that it's much cheaper to produce a limited-time event than to run an established restaurant. Jennifer Long, brand director of Patron, which sponsors pop-up dining/cocktail experiences around the country, says each event costs around $10,000.
And if Starr has his way, his newest endeavor will have even more in common with his former music career: He's in talks with several A-list chefs to go on tour, stopping in cities for three-night pop-up restaurant stints "just like a concert."
CLARISSA CRUZ is the Fashion Features Editor of O, The Oprah Magazine. She is the former Style Editor of People magazine and has written for Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, Food & Wine, and Budget Travel. @clarissanyc1