Pop-up Restaurants

A New Model for Portland Eateries?

Pop-up retail is hot. What about pop-up restaurants?

By Eat Beat Team March 4, 2010

Thoroughly adaptable beasts, foodie entrepreneurs always find new ways to thrive in downturns, and the most recent spate of economic malaise has been no different. As restaurants have been hurt (though not nearly as bad as some local media organizations would have you believe) a general climate of thrift and resourcefulness has helped food carts, sandwich shops, and other business models that require less initial investment than a typical bricks-and-mortar restaurant thrive.

With high retail vacancy rates in many commercial districts around the country, landlords have begun leasing space on a short-term basis to so called "pop-up" tenants. Rather than signing a typical five or ten-year lease (Restaurant leases are often ten years), "pop-up" retailers occupy a vacant space for a shorter period of time, often only a couple of months. In cities like New York and San Francisco, would-be restaurateurs are beginning to apply this model to eateries. Here’s a New York Times article from last month on the subject.

While what’s always best for a neighborhood are tenants who’ll make long-term commitments, "pop-up" retailers are ideal for the interim. It’s always better to see activity than just an empty space. Many clothing companies have employed this business model here in Portland. In fact, my friend Jean Pierre Veillet of the Portland design build company Siteworks has designed several high-profile pop-up projects in New York City, one of which earned him this article in the New York Times.

As areas like the Pearl District and South Waterfront especially continue to experience higher-than-usual vacancy, I can’t help but think how cool it could be to land a few temporary restaurants, supper clubs, food markets, and night markets in empty retail spaces in Portland.

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