When It All Falls Apart: The Drawbacks to the Oh-So Trendy Pop-Up Movement

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The concept of a pop-up dining event for a chef is appealing: no steady salaries for a staff, no rent and perhaps fewer hours to work than at a brick-and-mortar establishment. It's also uber-trendy right now, particularly in Dallas. Even food industry pros who have their own restaurants are using pop-ups to experiment and get their fare to a wider audience.

For the last few months, Roland Miranda has been sharing cuisine of the Philippines this way using what he calls Pinoy Pop-Ups — but despite the advantages, pop-ups aren’t a breeze compared with traditional restaurants.

Miranda had his first pop-up event in late January, and it served as what he calls “an audition” to his wife, Patricia, to show her that he could make a living catering or running a restaurant.

The response has been hit or miss. People love the food and realize it’s worth the wait, he says, but the unknown variables that can arise can outright destroy a planned meal.

Last weekend, people stuffed into small seats at Habibi Cafe and Hookah Bar for a Pinoy Pop-Up. Unfortunately, by 1:30 p.m., the event was unraveling.

A few tables of large groups of people sat around waiting for food. After a few minutes, some teenagers returned with sacks from Dunkin’ Donuts.
Meanwhile, Miranda was in the kitchen, watching linguisa (spicy sausage) slowly cook on the ancient stove. He opened up an oven — which looked so old that anyone would want to take a photo, slap a filter on it and post it with #antique — to a large lechon (roasted pig) that is supposed to be a delicious, crispy, fatty meat.

“It’s soft,” he said, flicking the exterior and complaining about the sub-par equipment.

This isn’t where he always “pops up,” he says, and it doesn't seem likely that he'll return to this spot.

The kitchen wasn’t the only thing working against him: He opened a few hours late because the venue’s air conditioning stopped working. Then, his staff for the day was a no-show.

So there was Miranda, a 46-year-old who moved to the U.S. from the Philippines when he was 15, standing in a kitchen alone. A roasted chicken sat on the counter, meats were lightly and slowly frying on the stove, utensils scattered everywhere. In the dining room, his clientele grew anxious — and hungry.

So what would he have done differently this time around?

"Paid my staff cash money up front," he says. "Paid the landlord after the event. Insisted on customers having reservations. Had a dry run by cooking in the unfamiliar kitchen."

If you’re game for a pop-up, you need to be ready for anything, be marketing savvy and be ready to explain what a pop-up is several times a day, Miranda says.

This setback probably cost him some money, but Miranda has no intention of giving up. He posted an event for later that same week and has Olympics Street Food Fest and Christmas in September events planned.

That brick-and-mortar dream is on his mind, too. Miranda says he's eyeing a spot in Plano where he can consistently share Filipino cuisine.

He also does a monthly Filipino street food fest, though not in the hot months of July and August. All of his operations are announced on a Facebook page called Trisha and Roland’s Pinoy Pop-Ups.
For now, the pop-ups continue, with their successes and challenges ever-present.

"The ultimate challenge for a pop-up is creating a customer base," Miranda says. "Your customers will have to have the vagabond spirit that you espouse. If I can just get people to try my food, they will love it. The rub is how do I get them close enough where I can do so?"

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