“Pop-up restaurant…”

These have been popular words in the restaurant world recently. The concept of launching a restaurant for a day or two is not new by any stretch. Winefest Des Moines stages one-night “Prima Dinners’’ in unique spots around the city. Also, more than a half dozen years ago, Des Moines Chef Hal Jasa (Zingaro, Underground Inc.) began his fantastic pop-up, underground dinners around the city and even got special mention in “Food & Wine” magazine (#51).

Bubba guests were in for an amazing four-course meal from Chef Scott Stroud.

The pop-up that we at Orchestrate launched earlier this month was staged in the gallery at Hoyt Sherman Place. Rather than a one-night dinner, it was a full-fledged restaurant that operated for three days. The pop-up had a name (Bubba), a full menu… even its own logo. This reservations-only, coursed dinner was cooked on site. Southern cuisine, such as biscuits, chicken and waffles, gumbo and peach cobbler were among the offerings. Each course was paired with a cocktail.

Each of the four courses offered at least three Southern-inspired options and a cocktail pairing.

Bubba, a labor of love, was a success because it was a true team effort. Orchestrate Chef Scott Stroud headed up Team Bubba with Christopher Diebel, a public affairs guy who represents Orchestrate properties and other great restaurants in the community. I was happy to help out by providing my classic southern biscuits. A tremendous amount of work went into the event.

A fried oyster amuse-bouche.

Plus, we all wanted to show off a little bit. I have to confess that I made biscuits almost every day for about three months to prepare for Bubba. I was like some kind of madman, to be honest. Even though I was just one small piece of the puzzle, I wanted to make a memorable biscuit. I like the pressure cooker atmosphere, especially when hype and expectations turn up the heat (such as the huge Zombie Burger + Drink Lab opening in Aug. 2011.)

One of the best things about a pop-up is that it can still be successful even if the concept wouldn’t necessarily work for a full-fledged, long-term restaurant (after all, opening a new place can take years off a chef’s life!). In other words, you wouldn’t sink a boatload of money into a concept that people only want to try once, but that concept is a perfect fit for a pop-up.

When we started considering pop-ups, our challenge was how to best capture the interest of the public. What is it about the event that sets it apart from a normal night out? A unique space? A fun theme? The short-term nature, aka the “get-it-now-while-you-can-or-be the-one-standing-on-the-sideline-missing-out-while-others-are uploading-to-Facebook-and-Twitter” mindset? To me, all of those things work to make a pop-up special, which is exactly what it should be!

Chef Scott Stroud in command of the Bubba kitchen

What I like about the pop-up concept is that it gives Orchestrate’s talented chefs a chance to step out from the restaurants they run and let their creativity loose. They get a bit of break from their routines and can spread their wings and try some new things in a fun environment.

Will we host another one? This much I will say: I’m considering doing one pop-up myself – stay tuned to this blog!

(P.S., much thanks to Chris Maharry (Maharry Photography) for capturing and allowing me to share these excellent shots of Bubba.)

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