Tuesday, January 28

A look into the appeal of pop-up restaurants in LA, how they find success

(Vaibhavi Patankar/Daily Bruin)

UCLA alumnus Allen Yelent took a leap of faith transitioning from selling coffee to selling burgers.

Having worked in the coffee industry for over 10 years, Yelent said developing a true passion for burgers led him to open a retail pop-up shop. His restaurant Goldburger currently sells gourmet burgers at its Silver Lake location. Because of the economically friendly business model and flexibility of a pop-up location, he said he had both the financial and personal freedoms to explore this new endeavor.

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Because Goldburger is a pop-up restaurant, Yelent said he feels less pressure to have everything operating flawlessly upon opening. The pop-up allows him to experiment with the step-by-step process of creating a restaurant without breaking the bank, instead of dealing with the high operational and rent costs of a brick-and-mortar location.

“You just have a lot more flexibility financially with what you need to invest in, the type of equipment you need to invest in, (and) the spaces you need to invest in,” Yelent said. “It’s just a lot less than when you’re doing a full-service restaurant.”

Though the pop-up format allows for certain advantages, such as avoiding the costly Los Angeles renting fees, Yelent said it comes with its drawbacks, for example, the lack of space and time available to find creative storage solutions, pick up supplies and prep the food. However, he said the success of the pop-up restaurant is because of LA’s open-minded relationship toward food.

“There aren’t many cities in the country that have such a vibrant street food scene like Los Angeles because the city of LA and the people that live here are welcoming of it,” Yelent said. “They’ve come to expect it and they love it.”

Johnny Ray Zone’s Nashville hot chicken restaurant, Howlin’ Ray’s, has experienced a similar narrative. Howlin’ Ray’s was originally a food truck and completed the transition at its Chinatown brick-and-mortar location in 2016. Even though he fondly looks back on his food truck experience, Zone said he was always itching to return to a traditional restaurant setup.

“(A pop-up restaurant) is more of a grind but it definitely has its own lessons and things to offer a young entrepreneur, chef or business owner because it’s a situation where you really have to love what you’re doing in order to do it at that level,” Zone said.

Zone said the restaurant’s popularity experienced a snowball effect – a gradual accumulation of followers and regular customers. Alongside the improvement of techniques and systems a permanent location offers, Zone said social media also played a large role in increasing Howlin’ Ray’s following.

“Whether it’s with Instagram or Twitter, we’ve really garnered a great open relationship with our followers and the community itself,” Zone said. “I feel like (social media) is a big game changer for restaurants, young entrepreneurs or businesses in terms of investing the time to really cultivate and develop a following.”

Fourth-year sociology student Nicole Aghakhani is also very involved in the crossover between social media and restaurants. She has amassed almost 1,000 followers on her Instagram account @bruinfoodies since May, on which she posts about the trendy places she tries, such as Breakfast Republic in San Diego, Cha Cha Matcha in West Hollywood and Blu Jam Café in Brentwood. However, she said she discovers these locations largely through social media.

“I think now (social media) plays a big role because honestly, for me, where I find most of the places I go eat and try in LA is on Instagram and I know a lot of influencers get paid a lot to go eat places,” Aghakhani said.

Pop-up restaurants and food trucks, in particular, accumulate followers because of their abilities to move around and experiment in different communities, she said. Aghakhani said because pop-ups exist for a limited amount of time, this draws in customers as well.

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With such a diversity of pop-up restaurants in LA, fourth-year physics and applied mathematics student Clayton Ho said he found a similar passion as an amateur chef and food aficionado. Ho said pop-up restaurants are a novelty to the greater public, as they exist for an undefined amount of time – the element of mystery draws people in. Once establishments become popular, more people are drawn into the restaurant just so they can say that they’ve tried it, Ho said.

Yelent said he has found social media, and posting on Instagram especially, to be a useful tool in reaching out to those who are attracted to these limited-time-only restaurants. Though the Silver Lake building that houses Goldburger is set to be demolished within the next year, Yelent said he is thinking about expanding Goldburger into a full-fledged restaurant afterward.

“I think every single day that I see more interaction and watch the Instagram follower count go up and every weekend when I see a line when I open up the gate to the pop-up, it’s always a surprise and I’m always very grateful and humbled by it,” Yelent said. “I just hope I can keep making people happy and keep making things people want to eat.”

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