Over the past couple of years, pop-up restaurants have been used by up-and-coming talent as a platform for bricks-and-mortar operations. A temporary site has allowed for the likes of Flat Iron, Patty & Bun and Yalla Yalla to trial their concept and raise brand awareness – ultimately making a pitch to a potential backer or landlord much more credible.
And it hasn’t taken long for some of the industry’s big players to take note; realising the commercial opportunities available to take their business into areas they’re not usually associated with such as music events, fashion get-togethers and literary hubs.
Cinnamon Kitchen, Vivek Singh’s restaurant in the City, is getting muddy and going mobile by taking its modern Indian fare to festivals across the country.
Going by the name of Joho Soho (translated as ‘whatever happens, happens’), a shabby-chic stand serves up street food variations of some of Cinnamon Kitchen’s most popular dishes, with menus tailored to each festival and event.
“We wanted to do something that was a lot more accessible and experimental,” said Singh – Joho Soho made its debut at the Summertime Festival in Hyde Park and appeared at the UK’s first Halal Food Festival last week.
“There’s a lot of very interesting things happening with street food and pop-ups at the moment, so I was keen to get us involved,” added the chef. “In terms of the big festivals, there really isn’t much on offer by way of Indian food. Joho Soho fills that gap, it allows us to reach out to a new demographic and make new friends – it’s a bona fide commercial opportunity.”
The Joho Soho shack serves up the likes of slow-roasted pulled lamb on fresh naan bread, bhangra burger and masala fish & chips. A range of drinks are also available, from Indian-style daiquiris to rhubarb and mango lassis, along with a selection of craft beers.
The whole operation is overseen by Cinnamon Kitchen’s head chef, Abdul Yaseen, with Singh adding that occasional pop-up events help to keep staff motivated and expand their skills.
“It’s great for the team. I have several chefs that are so up for this sort of thing - they want to get out and about in the open and showcase their skills to new customers. It’s a win-win situation.”
The examples of well-established restaurants opening temporary formats don’t stop there. Wahaca last year ‘took street food back to the streets’ in its mobile operation, Mexican Street Kitchen. Two Wahaca-branded vans now serve up a selection of burritos, tacos and salads in Canary Wharf and Southbank.
Burger chain Byron has been doing a similar thing for years, with its vans popping up at street food events and small festivals across the country. And fellow Indian concept Roti Chai recently opened its ‘Chaat Shack & Bar’ at Festival Village, as the restaurant & bar in-residence for Alchemy.
No strings attached
As Singh concludes, this trend only looks set to continue as other operators pick up wind of the various benefits that a pop-up offshoot can bring.
“There’s been lots of talk about ‘pop-up to permanent’, but it is also true the other way around too,” he said. There’s no long-term commitment, there’s no big rental deposits to worry about – you can just take each event at a time.
“I think there’s still a gap in the pop-up market, particularly at festivals, for good-quality F&B offerings that really focus on provenance and authenticity. Joho Soho has already had some really interesting invites to future events, so we’re proving that it really works.”