Nimble by nature, the ranks of pop-up restaurants and their ilk are always changing.
Some evolve into full-fledged restaurants, some move around as opportunities change and others simply fold. Behind it all, the ability of the pop-up mode to field-test different dining concepts and flavors — and the entrepreneurial drive of the people who start them — ensure fresh examples keep coming.
On Wednesday, May 20, a cross-section of the city’s pop-up circuit will share the spotlight with a broader slate of new ideas coming to New Orleans.
The venue is Propeller, a nonprofit that helps launch ventures aimed at addressing some of the city’s pressing issues. Companies and nonprofit groups enrolled in Propeller’s business accelerator program are specifically focused on education and youth development, public health, water management and access to healthy foods.
An annual event called Propeller Pop, held at its Broadmoor headquarters and event space, showcases their work. From its start last year, however, Propeller Pop also has doubled as an exhibition of entrepreneurial energy by inviting pop-ups to serve the crowd.
“We thought pop-ups captured the spirit of Propeller; we see them as paralleling our entrepreneurs,” said Catherine Gans, Propeller’s marketing manager.
The 11 vendors selected for the event are widely diverse — in food, format and longevity —and the event is a rare chance to sample them side by side and under one roof.
Some may actually test the limits of the term pop-up, as they’ve grown into full-time restaurants within other businesses. That’s the case with Blue Oak BBQ, which serves slow-and-low barbecue at the music club Chickie Wah Wah, or Seoul Shack, a walk-up kitchen for Korean food run by the well-known local chef Dan Esses at the Dragon’s Den nightclub.
Others, however, are just getting started and some are growing and evolving into specialty caterers and event vendors along the way.
Lahpet, for instance, serves traditional Burmese flavors at coffee shops and markets, adding dishes like a curry of hardboiled eggs and bitter greens or its namesake, a fermented tea leaf salad, to the possibilities of a quick meal. And Upper 9 Doughnut Co., which makes both traditional and exotic doughnuts (blueberry sage, chocolate salted caramel), expanded just last week from a once-a-week breakfast pop-up Uptown to become a vendor at the French Market’s new Saturday farmers market.
Laurel Santos, a family and marriage counselor, dipped her toe in the pop-up pool last summer on something of a lark. She simply set up shop on the stoop of her Marigny apartment to sell snack-sized ice cream cups to passersby, serving flavors like peaches and cream with Sriracha hot sauce or another with black pepper, raspberry and champagne.
Now her Laurel’s Licks Ice Cream has grown to include catering and events, and she sees the potential for an ice cream stand as a sideline to her counseling practice.
“If there’s a connection, it’s that you can’t be mad and eat ice cream at the same time,” she said, joking.
Others began more pragmatically, like StickBall, a “meatball pop-up” introduced last year by kindergarten teacher Jamie Trent and her fiancé, Milty DeMilt, after a round of student loans came due.
“We can definitely identify with feeling broke sometimes,” Trent said. “So we thought we could do something that would be affordable for people and also make some money on the side.”
They started serving stuffed meatballs and other Italian-inspired dishes as a once-a-month pop-up, though the idea quickly grew beyond what they’d envisioned. Event catering gigs started rolling in, and now they’re working on a food truck to take StickBall full time.
“It enables you to be yourself, to do your own food, to set your own hours,” said Eddington, who has also developed a bottled hot sauce. “It’s up to you. It’s easy to get started but you’ll you get out of it as much as you put into it.”
That’s precisely what inspired Orlando “Orly” Vega to join the pop-up field with his Congreso Cubano.
A Cuban-American originally from Miami, he reworked some of his grandmother’s recipes with business partner Ricky Ostry. Now, they set up shop Thursday through Saturday at the Hi-Ho Lounge on St. Claude Avenue, turning the club’s backyard into an island-style patio with murals, an Afro-Cuban soundtrack, colored lights and a few tables under a tin roof.
Their menu mixes the African influences of Cuban cooking with their own modern interpretations, though it’s the flexibility of the pop-up approach itself that is most appealing for Vega, who describes himself as first and foremost an entrepreneur looking for his niche.
“There are very few barriers to getting started here, people are very welcoming and supportive,” Vega said. “I don’t know if New Orleans is the best place for a start-up where you need a lot of infrastructure, but when you’re talking about a grass-roots start-up, where you’re tapping that social instinct people have here, I can’t think of a better place to do it.”
11 pop-ups at Propeller Pop, and where else to find them
What: slow-and-low barbecue, sandwiches, smoked wings
Where & When: Chickie Wah Wah, 2828 Canal St., Mon.-Fri., 5-11 p.m., Sat. 6-11 p.m., Sun. 6-10 p.m.
What: Mexico City-style brunch from chefs Christian Dischler and Baruch Rabasa
Where & When: The Franklin, 2600 Dauphine St., 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
What: traditional and original Cuban food
Where & When: Hi-Ho Lounge, 2239 St. Claude Ave., Thu. and Fri., 7 p.m.-midnight; Sat., 8 p.m.-3 a.m.
What: pasta and Italian dishes
Where & When: periodic pop-ups at Bao & Noodle, 2700 Chartres St.
What: revved-up New Orleans-style home cooking, and pizza
Where else: Aline Street Beer Garden, 3445 Prytania St., Thursdays from 6 p.m.
What: farmers market-sourced bar snacks and small plates
When & Where: Molly’s at the Market, 1107 Decatur St., lunch Sat. and Sun., dinner and late night Wed.-Mon.; and Pearl Wine Co., 3700 Orleans Ave., Thursdays 5 p.m.-7 p.m.
What: Burmese dishes, a blend of Southeast Asian and Central Asian flavors for curries, stir-fries and its namesake, a fermented tea leaf salad.
Where & When: Solo Espresso, 1301 Poland Ave., May 16, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Rook Café, 4516 Freret St., first Saturday of the month, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Crescent City Farmers Market, each Tuesday in June, 200 Broadway, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
What: ice cream in exotic flavors, like peaches and cream with Sriracha hot sauce or black pepper, raspberry and champagne
Where & When: special events and periodic appearances
What: a walk-up kitchen for Korean food (rice bowls, noodles and Korean tacos) from chef Dan Esses and Miss Sophie Lee of Three Muses
Where & When: Dragon’s Den, 435 Esplanade Ave., 5-11 p.m. Thu.-Sun.
What: meatballs (traditional, stuffed or made from crab), Italian dishes
Where & When: special events and periodic appearances
What: traditional and exotic donuts, like chocolate salted caramel and blueberry sage
Where: Tracey’s Bar, 2604 Magazine St., Saturdays from 8 a.m.-‘til (usually sells out early); the French Market, 1100 N. Peters St., Saturdays 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.