Seize the pop-up op, says Chantelle Nicholson

31 August 2021 by
Seize the pop-up op, says Chantelle Nicholson

If there's one good thing the pandemic has done, it's to turn the pop-up into one of the sharpest tools in the hospitality box, says Chantelle Nicholson.

The notion of a pop-up restaurant was something I had enjoyed as a guest, but it wasn't really something I had considered doing as an operator. At least, not until the world turned upside down, owing to a certain pandemic. And now, I think they are a much needed part of the landscape.

From the perspective of someone looking to open their first restaurant/bar/café, pop-ups pose an interesting opportunity. If the site is pretty well equipped for the purpose intended, it can be a relatively low-risk way to get a concept under way and to test it out. Just fitting out a restaurant is generally a very expensive exercise, not to mention everything else that needs to be funded: licences, planning applications, legal fees, stamp duty – the list goes on. The idea of an operation being only semi-permanent, rather than a hefty commitment of 10 to 15 years, can seem pretty attractive when the world is in such a state of flux, especially when it comes at an affordable price.

From a landlord's perspective, perhaps there is a little more risk, and a bit more work involved in short-term lets, but on the whole it can be an interesting way to make use of an empty space and get a return on their property investment.

A pop-up can also create a dynamic and interesting landscape for an estate or neighbourhood, rather than having the same old operations on an extended basis. And the opportunity they can create for operators who may not have a huge amount of capital but have a great idea and concept and the passion to make it happen, can make it an interesting prospect.

Pop-ups create an opportunity for operators who may not have much capital but have a great concept and the passion to make it happen

Looking back on the past 18 months, the amount of innovation and creativity that has happened within our industry is very, very impressive. Had it not been for the pandemic, how many of these great concepts would have come to fruition?

Creating my All's Well pop-up restaurant in Hackney was never on my radar before the pandemic. It was only as a result of the feeling of helplessness amid restriction after restriction that it ever came to fruition. I trusted my gut instinct, despite a number of thoughts creeping in and advising it was a bad idea, and threw a bit of caution to the wind.

Having only ever spent at least six months opening restaurants, the 10-day turnaround between getting the keys and opening the site officially had a frenetic but very present feel to it. Gone was the expectation of perfection; instead, it was about embracing the imperfection and turning it into something that had a heart and soul, and could be part of a neighbourhood at a time when community was vital.

As I sit at the bar, service over, during All's Well's last week of operation, it really does ring true to me that all can be well that ends well in a pop-up restaurant. I'm excited to restart the chapter in a different space – when the time is right.

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