Latest San Francisco food trend: Pop-up restaurants


Rain or shine, Richie Nakano of Hapa Ramen serves up hot ramen noodle soup at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market every Tuesday and Thursday. "It's not necessarily a traditional Japanese-style ramen, it's more of a California-influenced organic ramen," he says.

This will be a long day for the Hapa Ramen staff because later that night, they will "pop up" at a Haight Street restaurant. "We go into other people's restaurants on a night when they're closed and sell our menu and do our own food," says Nakano.

The pop-up concept originated in London and has spread quickly around the globe.

"It's sort of an underground restaurant," says Lulu Meyer with the Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). They run the Ferry Building Farmer's Market. It has been a big supporter of pop-up restaurants, giving them space to set up entire kitchens on the sidewalk. "They are out in the rain, they pop up their tent, they have wind, they have elements, they have to deal with all these other factors you're not dealing with inside of a truck."

A food truck can cost as much as $50,000. This is much cheaper.

"I spent $7,000 to open this," says Nakano. "To open a restaurant, you're talking anywhere from $200,000 to $2 million."

In February, Wise Sons Deli in San Francisco's Mission District went from a pop-up to a fixed location. "We started at a cafe, and then we moved to a wine bar, and then we moved to a restaurant, and then we moved to the Ferry Building," says the deli's co-owner, Leo Beckman.

They make everything from scratch from the pastrami to the rye bread it sits on. The owners say starting as a pop-up helped them zero in on just what people wanted. "It gave us the opportunity to not only test ourselves, and our ideas and our concepts, but to see if people would respond," says Beckman.

Amy Remsen of Beauty's Bagels turned to Wise Sons for help refining her bagel recipe. She pops up at the 24th Street Deli and at their weekly farmer's market location. "The pop-up aspect has been invaluable because it's given us a chance to practice before we actually open our own space," she says.

Remsen will be venturing out on her own soon. She's opening Beauty's Bakery at 39th and Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. Nakano is about to get his own restaurant on Fillmore, but both say they will continue to give back to future pop-up restaurants.

"We also have another pop-up scheduled in our shop already," says Remsen.

Some pop-ups will take over a restaurant for a night a week, while others will go wherever they can find space. If you find one you like, you'll most likely need to keep track of it using social media like Twitter or Facebook.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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