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By Aaron Russell
Chef Liaison, Michael A. Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality
Have you ever been to a pop-up restaurant? A pop-up restaurant is one that is opened in a shell of a building (or space) in a matter of a few hours and only operates for a specified period of time, ranging from a single meal service to one week. They are usually a new restaurant or concept, in a new location with new staff. What started in Britain and Australia in the early 2000’s has become a global trend in the hospitality industry, including Restaurant Day (third Saturday in May) which is an organized effort to encourage pop-up restaurant dining.
Trying to successfully open a pop-up before the internet and social media would have been a monumental feat, but with the introduction of blogs, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook it has become much easier. Potential restaurateurs use social media for everything from finding customers to crowdfunding their pop-up concept. Entrepreneurs and chefs sometimes use the pop-up format to test demand for new restaurants. Otaku Ramen (now a permanent spot) in Nashville is a perfect example.
In the Michael A. Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality Management, seniors are tasked with opening a pop-up restaurant as part of their Capstone class project. The class is divided into groups, usually two to three students each, and they select a theme for their restaurant. Each member of the group takes an area of responsibility (General Manager, Chef, Front of the House Manager) and they are tasked with developing the concept from menu and theme to staffing and decor.
Themes have included Russian, Greek, Japanese, Southern, Cajun and New American with traditional recipes appropriate for the theme. Each semester is slightly different to keep the class fresh and new and have included open lunch dining, coursed (pre fixe) dining, and family style service. The restaurants start in the last two thirds of the semester and run one per week with each group operating as the management team for their restaurant.
The pop-up days are long but rewarding. The management team arrives early in the morning and begins organizing for the day. They put together prep and to-do lists and delegate tasks to their staff, typically student volunteers with the program. They set up the dining room, taste and adjust recipes, fine tune plate presentation, handle the last minute “oops,” and keep their teams motivated.
Once meal service starts, it is a whirlwind of greeting, order taking, plate checking, food running, clearing and getting set for the next service. Time goes by quickly and when you have a chance to look at your clock, thirteen hours have passed and it is over! Part of their grade includes the overall success of the restaurant, comments from their customers, and how well they incorporated sustainable practices into their concept (i.e. food waste, recyclables, refuse, etc. are all measured).
For Spring semester 2017, pop-up dining starts on March 17 and run weekly until April 28 (no restaurant during spring break). Interested diners can purchase tickets on the Michael A Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality Management’s page on the KSU Mall website.
Please join us, and bon appetit!