After carefully contemplating your thoughtful questions with all the solemn dignity of a Rodin sculpture, our experts in non-traditional New Orleans dining establishments have shared their thoughts on the city's changing foodscape. Are pop-ups supplanting their brick-and-mortar landlords? Can a food truck successfully put down roots and transition to sit-down dining? Just who is Keyser Söze, anyway? Tres Barnard, Rob Bechtold, and Cam Boudreaux answer all these and more in Eater's inaugural edition of Ask the Pros.
1. How many local restaurants would you say have food truck, pop-up, or otherwise non-traditional origins? How many pop-ups are in the city right now?
Tres: There are a few that I know of that are now open at least 5 days a week. They may not be all be at a "brick and mortar" location, but their hours, in my mind, solidify them as restaurants: Pizza Delicious, Juan's Flying Burrito, Milkfish, Killer Po Boys & Brandito's Burritios. There are at least 10 pop-ups that I know operating in NOLA right now, including some cocktail/wine mixers.
Rob: Not enough, New Orleans isn't food truck friendly. The whole pop-up thing is growing here, but most people I talk to have never heard of it. Restaurateurs should encourage pop-ups at their places to promote a small business they like. It's good way to
create income on closed days.
Cam: No clue.
Tres Barnard, We've Got Soul
2. What is the success rate for after transitioning to traditional dining?
Tres: Juan's and Killer Po Boys seem to have done an amazing job with transition. They have received great press and amazing reviews, and are growing in business. I am not sure of the others, but they seem to still be operating successfully.
Rob: I only know of one so far in the city?Pizza Delicious.
Cam: In the realm of infinite possibility, I cannot offer an absolutism. Making commerce from the culinary arts is hard, and not a lot of operations succeed in general.
3. Is making the transition to a traditional dining spot generally the goal for pop-ups, food trucks, etc.?
Tres: I think for most places, yes, but it has to be when the Chef is ready to do so. The goal of a pop-up is to build a demand and a following. You have to have dedicated patrons first before taking that next step. If your pop-up proves successful, an established restaurant, or set hours, is usually the next step, along with securing financial backing.
Rob: It's my goal.
Cam: Different business owners/chefs all have individual goals for their distinct operations. It would be hard to offer a generalization on a unified goal.
4. Obviously the idea of pop-ups isn't new, but has it been gaining steam as a low-overhead alternative to setting up a traditional restaurant in post-recession America?
Tres: I don't believe it has as much to do with the recession as it is a vehicle for young chefs to explore new ventures without the liability of loans and credit. Opening a restaurant is a huge financial commitment, and possibly means ruining your life and sending you into debt before you even get started.
Rob: Seems like it.
Cam: I think that more and more guests are seeking out authentic dining experiences featuring creative food prepared with love and passion by a working chef. With the proliferation of multiple sources of food media combined with social media marketing, enterprising and entrepreneurial chefs have a forum to promote their product to these guests. If this movement results in more pop-ups, mobile vendors, space shares, or other non-traditional dining modalities then guests have more options to dine, and hopefully will spend less and less of their hard earned dollars with the big chains.
Rob Bechtold, NOLA Smokehouse
5. There are so many kinds of alternatives (food trucks, dining clubs, etc.) to brick-and-mortar restaurants. Given that, is the term "pop-up" ever problematic for you?
Tres: Personally, not for me, as I am still operating one night a week as a pop-up. I know that some of my colleagues that have been able to establish consistent hours and full 12 hour days are wishing they could get past the pop-up label. Once you are able to have a full menu and you are putting in the work and effort to be open all week, you are no longer a pop-up, you're a restaurant.
Rob: You can call us whatever you like, just call us and come eat. Never been an issue.
Cam: The term "pop-up" has entered the popular lexicon as a catchphrase that lumps a lot of food service operations into a broad and expansive category.
I think that the prominent connotation the term conveys is a sense of impermanence. For our business, I tend to shy away from the term because we have a permanent home, regular operating hours (with more to come), and the intent of permanence.
6. Will these new restaurants realize the importance of serving craft beer and not shitty beer? Especially with a focus on local.
Tres: As a pop-up we have no control of the sale or purchasing decisions of alcohol, whatsoever. The bar sales of the establishment and the food sales from the pop-up are completely separate. But our location, Marie's, has at least 4 local selections.
Rob: As a restaurant, serving alcohol isn't my goal, so beer isn't important to me. Most places we pop-up already serve
drinks, so we don't worry about it.
Cam: Killer Poboys is not a restaurant (did the commenter read the bit?)?we are a sandwich counter that is inside of a bar. The Erin Rose's selection of beers appeals to a broad spectrum of consumers, and they definitely have a few local pours. Always remember, liquor in the front, poboys in the rear. Dunno what else to say to that one.
7. Can pop-ups and their ilk replace the traditional type of restaurant, or will the market always have a place for both business models?
Tres: There is definitely a place for both. People are still going to want a traditional dining experience, and fine dining will always have its place. People like options. I personally hit a pop-up at least once a week, but I also have a few local restaurants I frequent as well. It's about variety, availability, and convenience.
Rob: Pop-ups are transitional places, and there is enough room in the city for anyone doing good food. We have
enough mediocrity; we need no more of that.
Cam: I think the market has a place for chefs making handmade food utilizing good ingredients with love and care. The forum for this ethic will be varied from full service fine dining to snack shacks, and even the itinerant gumbo man. Variety is the spice of life, and hopefully market share will migrate from the corporate chain's uninspired, insipid pablum.
Cam Boudreaux, Killer Po Boys
8. Some people have talked about the pop-up as a way for chefs to put more of their focus towards the food rather than then maintenance and upkeep of a full-blown restaurant. Do you find that your business model frees you from worrying about some of the business-side worries of the food industry?
Tres: While you don't have as many stresses as you might have operating a full restaurant, it is not completely free of non-food stresses. I opened a pop-up so that I would have the freedom from week to week to create my own menu. This has always been my main focus, and this business model has given me time to shop at local farmers markets and keep my menu changing and fresh. I still have the weekly worries of food-cost, marketing, maintenance of kitchen equipment, taxes, etc. The stress is all there, just on a smaller scale.
Rob: I worry about all of it. Its like running a small, self-contained restaurant in your Prius.
Cam: As a chef/owner, I dont think I will ever be free of the concerns of operating a business, even if our product is served in paper boats, with no maitre'd or cloche in sight. We, along with our hardworking staff, still need to find a way to put food on the table, as well as plan for growth in the future. There are some awesome aspects of running a little sandwich counter in the back of a bar, though, what with the removal of a lot of the concerns that come with orchestrating a team effort of disparate individuals into the rugged ballet of full service.