As we listen to the dismal economic news this week — plummeting housing sales and weak employment figures, it’s easy to think about what isn’t working and what we need to cut back on to financially survive this crisis. But happily, when the going gets tough, the tough often get creative and find new ways to thrive, despite the barriers to entry.
Lucky for foodies, some of the great and aspiring chefs of the world seem to be both tough and creative in their approach to the restaurant business.
“Pop-up” restaurants and gourmet food trucks are two examples of this creativity. While wearing my chauffeur hat on Monday, I heard a yummy story on NPR about “pop-up” restaurants (http://n.pr/dzSF78). Apparently, many great chefs that have trained in fine restaurants and are ready to forge out on their own, are either finding it difficult to get the money they need to start a restaurant or they simply don’t want to take a risk in this down economy. So instead, they rent a space temporarily and open what’s being coined a “pop-up” restaurant. In the NPR story, they talked about Ludovic Lefebvre and his restaurant Ludobites in LA. Currently, he is renting what is a sandwich shop by day and using it as a restaurant by night. It’s a win-win-win for the sandwich shop, the chef, and the foodie customers. The sandwich shop makes more money, Lefebvre has much lower overhead and very little risk so he can showcase his skills without charging super-high-end restaurant prices. The result: Ludobites is packed and the patrons are enjoying fantastic gourmet food at a more affordable price (if they can get a reservation).
According to a NY Times article (http://nyti.ms/8XcHMX), pop-up restaurants are hitting the local San Francisco scene as well. In one example, the restaurant, Mission Street Foods, brings in rotating guest chefs and they use the profits in part to raise money for charitable causes. Same concept, different implementation.
Another rising trend is gourmet food trucks. These are not the “roach coaches” we all remember eating from out of desperation in the corporate parking lot. 2010 food trucks are run primarily by talented chefs who can’t or won’t take the risk to invest in a permanently-located restaurant. They usually have a specialty and become the best at that particular style of food. Like the pop-up restaurants, the food is gourmet quality for prices lower than a full-fledged restaurant could possibly offer. The idea is becoming so widespread in major cities like LA and Portland, that you can schedule your dining by the web-published or tweeted schedule of your favorite food truck. As with any popular idea, there is already a reality show about it so if food trucks inspire you, check out Tyler Florence hosting a Food Network show called the The Great Food Truck Race with 7 trucks competing for a 50,000 prize.
Not since my days attending UC Berkeley have I eaten from a good food truck or cart nor have I been lucky enough to try any of the pop-up restaurants. Have any of you eaten at a pop-up restaurant or from a great food truck that made you say OMG! Yummy? If you have, please share your experience. Inquiring and hungry minds want to know.