Pop Art, Part 2: Experts offers more tips for staging a pop-up event that will create buzz in your community.

A successful pop-up starts with a simple, easy-to-execute menu, but it can lead to bigger and better things, especially for food truck operators.

Pop-ups have proven to be a fun and engaging way for Cane Rosso to pack the house.

Jeff Amador


In part 1 of this series (“Pop Art, Part 1,” April 2017), we covered some of the basics of staging a pop-up at your pizzeria, including the advantages of collaborating with other restaurants and chefs and choosing the right partners. This month, we revisited our panel to talk about developing the menu, working with non-profits and whether pop-ups can lead to brick-and-mortar success for food-truck operators.


Our panel: 

Jenny Dorsey, chef, culinary consultant and co-founder of Wednesdays pop-up series, New York, NY

Jay Jerrier, owner, Cane Rosso, Dallas, TX

Terri-Lynn Woodhouse, restaurant consultant and cofounder of One Earth, Niagara-On-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada


PMQ: We know that pop-ups are especially helpful for food truck operators, but do you need a mobile kitchen to stage a pop-up? 

Dorsey: If you want to do a food truck-type pop-up, yes, but you can also pop up in any location with a small kitchen. 

Jerrier: Not at all. Generally, our pop-up guests will prep everything in their own restaurant kitchens, or they’ll show up early and prep in our kitchen with our staff. We buy all of the supplies for them; they can prep, or we’ll do it for them. We want them to have fun.

Woodhouse: Not always, but you will want your pizza to show its best face, and having a mobile kitchen can help with that. If you already offer delivery, you can always follow your standard procedures to deliver to venues or events. Use technology to your benefit. In the pop-up world, being innovative and flexible is half the battle.

“We keep the menu pretty concise for visiting chefs: no more than two to three items, such as their own custom pizzas or a signature dish of their own.”
—Jay Jerrier, Cane Rosso


PMQ: How should you determine your menu for a pop-up event at another restaurant, including how many menu items to serve?

Dorsey: Unless you’re a seasoned pop-up pro, every event is challenging: Your staff is working out of a different hub, and you don’t know how many people will come. There are so many variables when you haven’t done a pop-up in that specific place before. So I would keep the menu small and concise, unless you’ve rented the space for more than one day. There’s little flexibility in terms of real estate, and people who get too ambitious and try to do too much just find themselves in a cluttered space.
Generally, when people know it’s a pop-up event, they know you have constraints, so they don’t expect the exact same level of service or food. They’re more forgiving when you’re outside your normal confines. Don’t kill yourself; understand what parts of the process are most important and where you can whittle down to make your life easier on a hectic day. 

Jerrier: We keep the menu pretty concise for visiting chefs: no more than two to three items, such as their own custom pizzas or a signature dish of their own. Most times, the host restaurant will still have its entire regular menu running, so you need to be aware of everyone’s needs during service—what equipment you need, what space, how many extra bodies will be in the kitchen. Don’t overthink it; it’s supposed to be fun. Something always goes wrong, but just go with the flow.

Woodhouse: Don’t overdo it. Remember, you want to entice new clients to visit your restaurant, so bring your best items that are easily prepared and taste great. Make sure to know your pop-up partner’s demographic and tailor your menu accordingly. For example, your regular pepperoni pizza may not be a hit at a winery (perhaps a white pizza would be a great choice) but may be the best option at a kids party venue. 


Pop-ups can be a fantastic method of charity contribution. Cane Rosso often donates proceeds to their own Cane Rosso Rescue, a dog rescue organization founded in 2014.


PMQ: Can pop-ups also benefit local nonprofits?

Dorsey: I think that’s great if you want people to know you have a mission-driven business and are invested in your community. After Hurricane Sandy, a lot of New York City businesses hosted pop-ups for rebuilding efforts. 

Jerrier: Definitely—our pop-ups always benefit a local charity. People like to spend money when they’re helping others. We generally donate proceeds to a charity (usually our own, Cane Rosso Rescue, a dog rescue organization we started in 2014), so there’s a great altruistic element to the events. Pop-ups are generally a one-night event, so they’re not going to be a huge revenue windfall. You want to do them during slow periods—January or February, Monday nights, etc.—to bring in a crowd, build buzz around your restaurant, or for charitable reasons. 

Woodhouse: They can! It’s a great way to grow market share and reach new customers, so you might donate a percentage of profits from the event to a nonprofit.

“If a restaurant does a bad job [on a pop-up], attendees might look at your pizzeria in a negative light. Ask how much you trust the business you’re working with; if you’re not completely sure, I wouldn’t do it.”
—Chef Jenny Dorsey, Wednesdays pop-up series


Experts say to be wary of letting third-party brands use your store for a pop-up. For example, you wouldn’t want a direct pizzeria competitor invading your restaurant, but a partnership with a reputable brand can help bring in new customers.


PMQ: Should you allow other brands to use your store for their own pop-ups?

Dorsey: I think it depends. You probably wouldn’t want another pizzeria to take over your space, for example. Get in line with brands that can help and won’t conflict with your business. If a restaurant comes in and does a bad job, attendees might look at your pizzeria in a negative light. Just be careful with the branding and messaging, and ask how much you trust the business you’re working with; if you’re not completely sure, I wouldn’t do it. 

Jerrier: Definitely! Pop-ups help build community. I’m not sure you’d want to let a direct competitor use your restaurant, but anyone else is fair game. We look at it like this: No one is going to eat pizza every night, but by doing fun things with other restaurants, maybe they’ll think of you and the pop-up when they are in the mood for pizza. You just want to create a fun night and use the opportunity to build relationships with potential future loyal customers!

Woodhouse: If it’s a good fit for your brand, you should. They will be able to bring new clients and garner excitement by telling all of their social media followers where they will be. Plus, helping people is never a bad thing, in business or in life. 


PMQ: Can pop-ups lead to brick-and-mortar success?

Dorsey: If that’s the goal, sure. If it’s just for branding or marketing, you don’t have to make money off the event; it can be part of your marketing budget. If you’re doing a pop-up to prove a concept and raise money for a location, you need to show that your operations and costs are in line. Get a space that’s cost-effective and mimics your eventual build-out; have your employees on hand; offer at least 50% of the menu you’re planning (for your restaurant); and ensure the right amount of people come in so you can show investors you’re capable of running a restaurant.

Jerrier: Absolutely. That’s how we went from a mobile pizza oven towed behind my SUV to eight operating restaurants today. We popped up for six months in a little bakery that had a great kitchen but closed at 3 p.m. every day. We took over their space Thursday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. and created a whole restaurant, with a full menu and our own staff. We made it BYOB, so it became hugely popular. We would sell out of pizza within the first couple of hours while we built a devoted fan base. The pop-up gave us confidence that we could support our own restaurant—and when we finally did it, we had an instant fan base that was dying for us to open. 

Woodhouse: Having multiple revenue streams is never a bad idea. If you already have a brick-and-mortar, get out there and reach new customers. If you’re growing your business through holding pop-ups only, that’s OK, too; once your customers become raving fans, a natural progression is to have a physical location. 

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.


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