I still can’t believe I actually have a legit food-business and co-own a retail market + culinary studio called The Table here in Fort Worth! My business partner, Hao and I were introduced by a common friend merely two years ago and we decided to pursue our dream of cooking, eating, and sharing food we love with our community a little bit more seriously as a pop-up. Essentially, pop-up is a temporary shop set up to communicate ideas/brand awareness, sell products, and reach customers without a heavy burden of brick and mortar or retail space. It’s a relatively low-cost/low-risk opportunity to test out ideas especially for someone like me who isn’t ready to take a big plunge or unsure if the business idea actually works or wants some side income.
I am not a professional chef nor have worked in the restaurant industry to know the ins & outs of this business. It’s definitely been a huge learning curve to understand what it takes for a small business to survive and thrive everyday. One of the reasons I am writing this is post is to give everyone real insight on what owning a small-business, particularly pop-up and the lessons I have learned from it. I also reached out to some of my fellow pop-up business owners to gather their thoughts.
Be ready to give your 110% + some more :
Owning a small business requires patience. hard work, and lots of time because you wear many hats depending on what’s going on! For a food-focused business like ours, you are the social media specialist, grocery shopper, customer service representative, cook, resident dishwasher, menu developer etc. While maintaining a full-time job and figuring out pop-up life, it can be rough at times because you are constantly juggling things, planning and preparing for events. I promise things get better and easier with time and if you are passionate about what you do and why you do it, you will find a lot of joy, pride, and satisfaction in your business.
It’s okay to say NO :
This is probably the hardest part as a new/small business especially in the beginning phases. You want to get your name out, meet potential customers, and not turn down an opportunity but I highly recommend you to evaluate what does it mean for your business, growth, and your time. We have done a handful of events where we didn’t do our own research about the event, type of crowd, or were misled by the organizers and it was a complete waste of time. Say NO if it doesn’t fit with your vision and sometimes doing less is MORE. Trust me on this one.
Regroup & Reflect often :
Every pop-up is different and in spite of planning and preparing to your best abilities, sometimes things just go South. It’s a terrible & heavy feeling and it is going to happen every now and then. Constantly regroup and reflect with yourself, your business partner, and peers to see what can be improved next time & what went wrong. Hao and I constantly review our process & things we can improve upon so we do not repeat same mistakes again. Remember that pop-up-up is a temporary shop, be adaptable + flexible with situations on hand and always have a plan B.
Here’s what he says : In terms of getting started, make a list of everything you need (don’t forget things like napkins and pens, etc.) and diagram what your set up would look like. Then try and make it as small of an imprint as possible. This list will also serve as a checklist when you are getting ready to set-up. This helps you to be flexible with your spaces. We have been able to pop-up in huge breweries as well as small shops. Make your space physically attractive, neat, and clean. We use a black and white gingham design on our tablecloths draw the eye. When trying to get started, don’t be afraid to contact a business and ask to pop-up (although I would say to start small). Getting your foot in the door and serving excellent food will only help you get your next gig. Know that getting ready will take a lot of work and time. There has been more than one occasion I am pulling a super late night in the commercial kitchen to prep for the weekend. Plan to set-up early to avoid pitfalls like insufficient electricity of a tighter-than-normal space. We use fryers that command a lot of power, so getting in early has helped us make sure we don’t trip breakers (or get them reset before our start time ). Make sure you have enough help with you to cover point of sale and any prep you need.
Her biggest challenge so far has been getting people to try her food. It’s a new cuisine in Omaha and people aren’t always sure if they wan to try it. She offers samples, and once they try it, they love it. She loves the pop-up culture and it’s been really interesting meeting people and learning new things every time.
Popups are definitely a great place to meet many people & businesses and several opportunities have naturally presented themselves for Hao and I. We started as a dumpling pop-up but quickly, it evolved into dumpling making class, private dinners, and events, which we LOVE because it’s always something different. We have been fortunate to work with some really cool people, great venue, and fun event!
My friends from Momo Shack Dumplings are based in Dallas and they do pop-ups around town. Their speciality is authentic handmade Nepali dumplings AKA Momos. I agree 100% on being authentic and staying in your lane so your skills and passion can really shine.
Lessons from Momo Shack : One thing we’ve learned from owning a pop-up business is to be yourself and be authentic. Customers can feel the energy and vibes you put out, so staying true to who you are is the best way to attract likeminded people who will appreciate what you’re doing and your passion!
I feel like when we’re first starting off, we try to replicate what we think is working which might not be an actual reflection of who we are and what we bring to the table so figured it’s a good point to share with everyone!
If you are a looking to start your own pop-up business, here are few things to keep in mind :
If it is a food pop-up, know your city’s rule on permitting, food handler’s card etc.
Reach out to local businesses like coffee shop, brewery, bakery, or any venue that compliments your idea to host your pop-up.
Let the world know about your pop-up! Create facebook event, eventbrite, social media channel etc so everyone know what’s going on, obviously without being too pushy.
If anyone has questions on starting your pop-up business, I am more than happy to share my experiences and any resources you may need. Just shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.
Thank you so much for visiting Food, Pleasure, and Health.
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