The Business of Pop-Ups: Bullfrog, Rapicavoli, and Meinhold Speak

The only thing consistent about pop-up restaurants in Miami is that they are the latest form of branding. They can be used to build a client base that will sustain a permanent space while others are done simply because you can't feed weird people weird food in a normal space.

They may be done with love and hard work, they might only break even, yet their ultimate purpose is to draw you closer to the food, the chef that's preparing it and make you a repeat customer.

The word 'pop up,' thanks to aggressive overuse, fell out of favor nearly as fast as it came into vogue. It's used in reference to the restaurant industry much in the same way 'jobs' is used alongside a company trying to garner media coverage.

The experience, in Miami, seems to come in two different forms. A group of cooks takes over a restaurant space in its downtime for an unknown period of time and puts out whatever they please on an a la carte.

Another iteration is a flat rate, with a higher price for wine pairings, for a set meal. Sometimes it's offered over multiple nights, however around these parts it's a one-night affair.

"We've always done one-off events to spread our brand, whether it's PIG (stands for Pork Is Good) or PodBrunch," said GastroPod Mobile Food proprietor Jeremiah Bullfrog, who also said he shies away from using 'pop up'. "It gives us an opportunity to do something different than straight food."

One school of thought favors letting diners choose whatever they like. Another prefers they be taken on a culinary adventure at a flat rate. The less well off in your dining party, myself included, prefer a la carte, where you can get adventurous without breaking the bank. There's always a Tupperware of leftover something at home.

The pop-up-as-branding technique was more than effective for Eating House owner Giorgio Rapicavoli, who said repeat customers are what had the restaurant turning the kind of numbers seen at a permanent place. "We turned $13,000 into $500,000," he said. He and partner Alex Cassanova earlier this week announced they would bring back Eating House and later renovate the space on the corner of Ponce de Leon Boulevard and Eighth Straight to take over full time. At the same time Gabriel Orta and Elad Zvi, the duo behind the Bar Lab concept, announced they would bring their pop up bar, The Broken Shaker,  back to life in the Indian Creek Hotel, and would later take over a nearby space and serve food.

As a matter of money, and sanity, it seems like fixed menu dinners are more favorable and simpler to execute.

"If you decide to do a set menu, three courses, with three dishes, then you've prepared yourself that way," said Aniece Meinhold, a partner at The Federal Food Drink & Provisions. "But if you want to go crazy and have a menu with 20 items on it" then that's what you can do. Meinhold along with Cesar Zapata and the recently departed (back to New York) Daniel Treiman opened Phuc Yea!, a temporary Vietnamese oasis in downtown Miami that marked the spread of this latest craze to South Florida.

"The fixed menu is a much more efficient model," said chef Jeremiah of GastroPod, who's done the job both ways.

The Federal after six months -- a long time in this industry -- remains successful and was full on a recent visit at the end of July. However it's not the same people who ventured into the streets of downtown Miami weeknights looking for a Phuc Yea sign scrawled onto an easel.

"Originally the clientele from Phuc Yea came to The Federal but the price point was very different," Meinhold said. "A lot of people are somewhat of an older demographic, a more professional crowd."

For more, follow Zach on Twitter: @ZachIsWeird.

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