A clink of a glass. A conversation at the other end of the table. A laser-printed menu. A secret location. Separately all of these things mean nothing, but together they are pieces of a puzzle that equal a unique dining experience for people in the Triad.
Supper clubs are not new, but pop-ups — or temporary dining experiences — are one trend that the Triad picked up right on time. According to a yearly survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, pop-ups placed sixth on the list of culinary trends for 2018.
Pop-up restaurants are mini-restaurants that temporarily operate in parks, promenades, museums, warehouses, event centers and even other restaurants. Their restaurateurs and followers use non-traditional means of communication, such as social media or email listservs, to spread the word about their events. Some announce dining events hours before they take place, and they often sell out. Pop-ups can also move to different locations over a period of time.
Like food trucks, pop-up restaurants allow restaurateurs and chefs to hone skills or test new food ideas. The concepts particularly appeal to new culinarians because they can take advantage of exclusive spaces to introduce concepts without great expense. They can also attract investors who want to transform an idea into a full operation or another dining possibility.
Will Sanders and his wife Alex Hensleigh took this concept and brought it to fruition in 2017 when they created Moontide Sundries, a pop-up supper club they operated out of their home in Greensboro.
“I was employed full time in a restaurant and had endless food ideas that I couldn’t execute where I was working,” Sanders said. “Alex had the bright idea of hosting pop-ups ourselves.”
Opening a brand-new restaurant in 2020 is expensive and risky. Pop-ups act as a prophylactic against crushing waves of uncertainty and debt.
Tal Blevins of Machete took this concept to heart, which led him to become one of the first investors in Lazy Bear, a pop-up that became a two-Michelin star restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District, and a partner in a San Francisco cocktail and bar food concept, True Laurel, named one of Esquire magazine’s Best Bars in America and on Eater’s Best New Restaurants 2018 list, before returning to his hometown of Greensboro. After operating as a pop-up supper club for over two years, Machete is on track to open in the former Crafted, Art of the Street Food location sometime this year.
In contrast, Winston-Salem native Ashley Hardesty Armstrong is co-owner of Forsyth Seafood Market and Café and founding chef of the Table Experience. It’s a pop-up dinner series that focuses on farm-to-table cuisine in unexpected spaces and focuses on unique flavors sourced from local vendors and farmers. As progenitor of the series she has partnered with area chefs, talented culinarians, photographers and mixologists to bring her vision to life.
When asked about the importance of pop-ups, Armstrong said, “People are looking for different things. People are not getting the recognition they deserve. They are behind the scenes and it’s cool to have others come out and recognize their work.”
An unexpected benefit of the pop-up concept is the connections the guests and the restaurateurs make with one another. It’s a social experiment that proves to be the true definition of a movable feast.
In true pop-up fashion, Sanders and Hensleigh of Moontide Sundries took their show on the road last year to Boston and Virginia Beach.
“We were very surprised at how easy it was to fill a group so far away. It was made up of a few locals that we already knew, and a few people that had heard of us through people in Greensboro, which was rather mind blowing,” says Sanders.
“At the end of the day, we all eat to energize and nourish ourselves, but supper club fills a need for socialization and intimacy.”