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Pop-up Restaurants and Stores: Great Places to Start a Business

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An old manapua truck is the mobile marketplace for Roam’s designer collective.

Photo: Courtesy Roam

Until a few months ago, I thought a “pop-up” was an old-fashioned three-dimensional card or book that surprised you with a magical foldout that popped up as you opened it. Now, I know modern pop-ups are fleeting events  – whether of food or fashion – that appear, disappear and then reappear, often in surprisingly different spots. No two are alike.

You can’t find out about pop-ups unless you live where they live – on social media. So I joined the hordes tweeting, yelping and liking, and on my Facebook page, my friends now include an eclectic bunch: Miso & Ale, The Pig and the Lady, Roam, EightyTwo Creations and StreetGrindz.

Some pop-ups are stores or restaurants that appear for a day or a week. Some pop-ups occur in restaurants, but aren’t about food – a musician featured for a special occasion, art from a particular artist. There are pop-ups in private homes that feature crafts and jewelry, or music and poetry. They are usually more than just a table at a farmers market or craft fair, though those locations sometimes supplement a pop-up’s irregular appearances.

Henry “Hank” Adaniya, the owner of Hank’s Haute Dogs, sees pop-ups as short-term food events that emulate a restaurant experience, often in a borrowed venue.

“They offer chefs and cooks a low-risk way to present themselves to the public,” says Adaniya. He has hosted pop-ups for The Pig and the Lady and created one of his own, hank’s downtown.

“They are also known as ‘underground’ restaurants that exist below the radar. In many ways, catering has the same dynamics as pop-ups. Someone has a burning desire, another has a space they’re willing to lend or rent out and, if their paths cross, voila!”

Brooke Dombroski is a photographer, graphic designer and owner of Roam Hawaii, a designer-collective mobile marketplace of one-of-a-kind objects. She works with three business partners who are also her best friends.

She started Roam Hawaii out of an old manapua truck, but has also participated in pop-ups at bricks-and-mortar stores, which are great partners because they can provide quick exposure for pop-up shops like hers. “Creatively for us, it’s very refreshing and exciting to team up with established companies,” she says.

Sometimes, a pop-up is born as a solution to a problem. Tanna and Bryson Dang held their first Black Friday sale at their Ward Warehouse boutique, Eden in Love, in 2009. Customers packed the store and others lined up around the mall for hours and their merchant neighbors were upset at women blocking access to their stores.

Ever since, the Dangs have hosted a Black Friday pop-up in a second-floor conference room at Ward Warehouse. More space, more people, more merchandise and a lot more work. “It takes us three full days to set the rooms up,” says Tanna Dang.

Dang says marketing the pop-up event involves more than social media. Staff staple minifliers to all customer receipts during November, put up a banner at Ward Warehouse and do much more to get the word out.

Jason Koji, based in Hilo, supplies venues and organizes pop-up shops under the brand EightyTwo Creations, which is the name of his print shop. The 30-year-old has been self-employed since his early 20s and actually started his first business while a student by selling stickers at Hilo High School.

Poni Askew at one of the Eat the Street events that she helped create.

Photo: Lee Ann Bowman

“To me, pop-up means a special retail event,” says Koji. “It usually consists of independent clothing or jewelry companies. And, for me, it’s supporting local up-and-coming businesses.”

His first pop-up involved several specialty companies including Shipwrecked (which makes jewelry) and Cultural Blends, but soon there were others: BoomBoom Bikini, 808 Empire and Shawn Pila Photography.

“Pop-ups are great ways to cross promote,” says Koji. “Both my shop and whomever I work with benefit by combining our networks and contacts.  Vendors also benefit because they’re not locked into a lease and avoid startup costs that go into opening a retail business.”

Koji says he handles most of the promotion through a network of 10,000 contacts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and his mailing list.

“Whoever is renting space will do the same as far as online promo,” he says, “and we’ll cross promote with the brands we work with.”

Koji says he gets paid either with a set price, which includes the rental space, electricity, insurance and advertising, or with a percentage of sales, but he’s not specific on the dollar amounts.

Shawn “Doc” Boyd, founder of the Greenhouse (now called HQ HNL), an innovation and pop-up hub in Kakaako, says the modern pop-up builds on a long tradition.

“How many years have movie theaters been running previews for weeks or months ahead of the film, so that, by the time the movie comes to town, everyone wants to see it?” he asks.

“That’s exactly the concept of a pop-up,” says Boyd, whose Greenhouse helps entrepreneurs, builds websites, hosts events, teaches classes and gets the word out.

“You want to test the idea, get people to respond to the preview and then set up your brick and mortar. A lot of people think that you have to have the site first, but that’s a huge investment. This creates the desire first and measures it.”

There’s no way to talk about pop-ups in Hawaii without speaking of food trucks, and you can’t talk about food trucks unless you start with Poni Askew. Poni, her husband, Brandon, and their company, StreetGrindz, have been leaders in the food-truck and pop-up movement. Their “Eat the Street” events – the last Friday of the month in Kakaako and less frequently in other Oahu neighborhoods – draw more than 40 food trucks.

The Askews loved the idea of offering food-truck chefs the option of doing something original, even if only for one night. On one occasion, Youssef Dakroub, the owner of the Xtreme Tacos lunchwagon, turned his mobile venue into an evening of food from his Lebanese homeland and it was a hit. “Arabian Nights” was born and has become a recurring pop-up.

Eat the Street Kakaako has a different theme each month. The Oct. 26 theme was Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday known as the Day of the Dead.

Photo: Lee Ann Bowman

Now, Poni Askew and her partners have founded a permanent location for pop-ups and other food experiments. Taste at 667 Auahi St., near the Greenhouse in Kakaako, features a supervising chef, Taste partner Mark “Gooch” Noguchi, and a rotating selection of pop-up restaurants, some created by food-truck operators, The Pig and The Lady and others.

“It’s been thrilling to see the excitement in food entrepreneurs’ eyes,” Askew says. “Many have dreamed of owning their own bricks-and-mortar and Taste gives them the unusual opportunity to take a step closer. Having this space for even one day a week strengthens their dream of owning their own café or restaurant some day, but also educates them to some of the realities involved. Likewise, our guests receive an ever-changing menu out of the same four walls and they can look forward to coming back to dine with us at Taste. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

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