Pop-up Restaurants and Stores: Great Places to Start a Business
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McGee’s Pop-up Tested His Food Concept
By Lee Ann Bowman
Bob McGee now owns a brick-and-mortar restaurant, The Whole Ox in Kakaako, but his first Honolulu restaurant was a 10-week pop-up.
Photo: David Croxford
Put Bob McGee in an imaginary police lineup and ask, “Which one owns The Whole Ox?” You’d pick him in an instant. He’s big and barrel-chested and looks to be just the guy who’d create an informal, open-fronted restaurant with long, thick-boarded picnic tables in Kakaako and smack a moniker on it like “The Whole Ox.”
Indeed, McGee’s background is beefy, too. He was only 14 when a local burger joint in Avon, N.Y., hired him to grind beef and tie roasts for the in-house butcher. But he is also a graduate of the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, a Le Cordon Bleu school. And at Portland’s famed Higgins Restaurant, he learned the art of making sausages and other cured, smoked and preserved meats. He was part of the team when Higgins received a James Beard Award for best restaurant in the Northwest.
While he now has his own bricks-and-mortar restaurant, The Whole Ox was preceded by Plancha, a 10-week pop-up that served a mere 20 people a night, and operated three nights a week from September to November 2011 out of Morning Glass Coffee and Cafe in Manoa. Plancha, which featured a different menu each week, helped him test his theories, price points, menu items and business acumen.
“I think that we received a little notoriety, mainly because we were a little ahead of the curve,” says McGee. “There were very few pop-ups operating at the time.”
McGee says a pop-up restaurant generally uses a space that the chef does not own or lease long-term, but aims toward the chef’s own clientele. McGee’s pop-up happened because he had a food concept he wanted to try and a friend, the owner of Morning Glass, had available space in the evenings. “It was pretty much that easy,” McGee says.
Every pop-up has its own rules, based on that unique partnership.
“Maybe a percentage of rent is paid, based on overhead and profit,” he says. “Certain amounts of refrigerated space or dry storage may be allocated. They are usually a pretty organic derivation, so the idea mutates often.
“The one word that describes pop-ups best is ‘variety!’ ”
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