With visitors set to cram London and Olympic venues, enterprising operators are opening pop-up restaurants to capitalise on the crowds. Tom Vaughan reports
This week the world will descend on London. For some this is an inconvenience. For many, it is a thrill. For a few, it is an opportunity.
All of the anticipated six million visitors to London will need to be fed and watered. Official caterers will answer for some of that inside the Olympic Park, yet large numbers will head out of the official perimeter in search of something different. For many in London's hospitality scene, this was too good an opportunity to ignore, and the perfect chance to exercise the most recent hospitality phenomenon - the pop-up restaurant. From global companies the size of McDonald's to individuals such as banker-turned-chef Jimmy Garcia, temporary restaurants are opening around Stratford and the rest of London to run for the duration of the Olympics, in what must be the highest concentration of pop-up ventures that the capital has ever seen.
Short-term ventures designed to capitalise on high interest levels over a small period of time, pop-ups are perfectly suited to the Games, says Garcia, who is running Jimmy's Supperclub at Annex East. "I think it's a great opportunity for small businesses and young entreprenuers to showcase their skills on a big stage, and capitalise on what will be a very special time for London," he says.
For example, the Fringe, a pop-up venture with views over the Olympic Park, came about because the owner of a Stratford warehouse realised that it would be crazy not to use the space during the Games.
"The idea came about two years ago," says operations director Nick Gatehouse. "The owner Neil Brown thought what a fantastic opportunity this was to provide an alternative experience for people attending the Olympics." The result is a private members' club with restaurants, bars and nightlife.
For some, such as pub group Geronimo Inns, the chance to showcase their company to the world was a no-brainer. In the pipeline for only three months, the Calf - a temporary pub that is a sister site to the Cow at Westfield Stratford - wasn't just about self-promotion but about progressing the company, according to commercial director Ed Turner.
"There are so many opportunities - it's about enabling senior staff to be promoted from within the company and it's also an excellent opportunity for Westfield to look after even more people from all across the world," he explains. "And yes, if we get increased exposure for Geronimo Inns it is an added bonus."
At Claridges, in London's Mayfair, the Olympics have provided a chance to show off its contacts book to high-end diners. For two weeks the hotel is running a pop-up restaurant hosted by Rene Redzepi, owner of Copenhagen's Noma, which has been voted the best restaurant in the world for the past three years.
"The Olympics are on and we felt duty bound to do something for our guests," explains Claridge's executive chef Martyn Nail. "We sat down and thought ‘What can we bring to town?' and ended up with Rene Redzepi and Noma."
Even well-established global brands such as McDonald's and Electrolux are using the Games to showcase their company. For McDonald's, this has been no mean feat. For three years it has been working on a pop-up flagship restaurant in the Olympic Park, made from recycled and reusable materials, inspired by Locog's vision to make London 2012 the most sustainable Games possible.
Meanwhile, Electrolux has brought its global touring pop-up the Cube (pictured) - a celebration of the brand's 90th year anniversary that has already visited Brussels, Milan and Stockholm - to London's Royal Festival Hall, where it is situated on the rooftop. Running from May until September, the 18-cover restaurant is hosting six Michelin-starred British chefs.
While these pop-ups offer great opportunities for the individuals and companies involved, it is only when one considers the numbers that it is apparent what they are adding to a hospitality scene that will be stretched like never before. Even Jimmy's Supperclub, one of the smaller enterprises, is hoping to do 45 covers a night over its four-week run, while the Cube aims to provide dinner for 252 guests a week.
For larger scale operations such as the Calf, exactly how many customers it can expect is hard to gauge. "To give exact figures for how many we expect to be serving is about as easy to predict as how fast Usain Bolt's going to run," says Turner. "But we are confident we will be serving huge numbers."
At the Fringe, Gatehouse explains that custom will fluctuate with the Games. Visitor numbers to the Olympic Park are expected to peak at around 220,000 on busier days, with 60,000 expected on quieter days. As a result, Gatehouse anticipates that the Fringe will host between 750 and 3,000, depending on the scheduled events for that day. The Retreat, another private members' pop-up, run by the Brewery in the City of London, expects daily numbers of around 2,000.
Opportunities abound, but the pop-up moniker trivialises the amount of investment and planning that has gone into some of these ventures. At the Fringe, the cost of turning the venue from a sofa workshop to a hospitality space means that it needs to bring in a considerable return on that. Likewise, the warehouse venue for Jimmy's Supperclub has been completely refurbished in time for the Games - money that will need to be recuperated.
Bearing in mind the short-term nature of pop-ups, it has been essential to keep an eye on costs, says Turner. "We had to rein back the Calf to an extent. Because of the short shelf life we had to be strict on costs. There was lots of recycling bits from our other pubs, and lots of wooden pallets and iron sheets to tie in with the theme."
It would be churlish to expect small- and medium-sized companies to not eye a profit, but for the likes of Electrolux and the Cube, their pop-ups are more about the prestige they will bring the brand.
"The motivation for us was never the money," says Claridge's general manager Thomas Kochs. "It is about Claridge's giving to London during the Olympics and we are just trying not to make a loss."
The Olympics and Paralympics offer oodles of opportunity during their run. But prospects are not limited to that one month. The Calf is running until Christmas, while the Brewery is already being mooted as an annual pop-up. At the Fringe, discussions are also taking place for the long term, says Gatehouse.
"The question now is, with the amount of interest the owners have had, should they continue it after the Olympics? Weddings, meetings, events space - there are lots of opportunities, and it's thanks to the Olympics," he says.
Jimmy Garcia was running the Wild Food Kitchen in Hackney when he was approached by the brains behind Annex East, a warehouse by the Olympic Park, to run a restaurant on the mezzanine level throughout the Games. So Jimmy's Supperclub was born.
The venture will run from 20 July to mid August, providing breakfasts, lunches, takeaway snacks and themed five-course fine-dining dinners for 45 covers. Garcia will man the kitchen with two other chefs, with a remit to showcase British produce, as well as offer something different to the other dining experience on offer.
Dinners combined with dodgeball, screening of classic sporting films and tasting and wine-pairing nights will all add to the allure in what promises to show a more bohemian side to the Games.
An old, three-storey Victorian stables on the River Lee, the building that is now the Fringe was a sofa workshop. It was only when London won the right to host the 2012 Olympics, with the planned Park just 100 metres from the building, that its true potential was realised, explains operations director Nick Gatehouse.
"One idea was to turn it into a high-end restaurant, but it was soon apparent that diners were well catered for in and around the Olympic Park. We decided to use it as a pop-up venue that replicated the success of central-London members' clubs."
The site houses five separate bars, a courtyard with food market, private hire spaces and night-time DJs. The management team has been kept small, explains Gatehouse, and specialist companies brought on board to run the separate areas. Corporate hospitality is being run by caterer Rhubarb and the bars by drinks consultants Sweet and Chilli.
It is anticipated that the site will host between 750 and 3,000 customers a day, with day membership starting at £75.
"We're not trying to rip people off," says Gatehouse. "We want to provide a great experience so people come back. It's the kind of venue that people don't necessarily need to be heading to events to enjoy."
London's Olympic Pop-up Restaurants
A Taste of Noma
28 July to 6 August
Claridge's hotel, Mayfair
The Calf 1 June to December
The Cube by Electrolux
1 June to 30 September
Royal Festival Hall, South Bank
20 July to 9 September
Swan Wharf, Stratford
20 July to mid-August
Annex East, Stratford
27 July to 12 August
The Brewery, Chiswell Street
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