In March, GQ ran a story with the headline "How Pop-Ups Took Over America's Restaurants," calling the advent of kitchen-shares and streetside stalls "the fastest-moving craze in food." As often happens, Boise lagged a bit behind coastal cities regarding this dining trend—but local food purveyors like Lime and a Coconut, Figgy Bakes, GravEyard and more show the pop-up mania has started to move in.
Pop-ups are, by definition, moveable feasts. They're ephemeral and impermanent, appearing on street corners or in the dining rooms of other restaurants when the mood strikes and the ingredients are fresh, then sinking back into obscurity. Social media or a well-placed friend are often the only ways to track them down, adding an element of adventure to the process that appeals to diners and chefs alike.
"It's almost like an immobile thing that you're making mobile, and I'm drawn to that kind of twist—I think humans are," said Katy Vestal, the Owner/Baker behind Figgy Bakes, a high-end dessert pop-up that got its start in April. "It's this juxtaposition that sparks this intriguing piece, and I think that's why pop-ups are fun and clever and ironic to people."
They're also a stepping stone to brick-and-mortar restaurants. Vestal began her business by baking natural, whole-food cakes and pastries out of her parents' home kitchen, but her pop-ups at downtown Boise spots like Tasso, West Elm and Mixed Greens have since helped her broker a deal with Tasso for kitchen space. She moved into the sandwich shop's kitchen on Oct. 1 in exchange for offering her treats there, enabling her to expand into selling her goods at coffee shops across town.
Zac Clark, who runs the dead-of-night biscuits and gravy pop-up GravEyard out of Zen Bento's kitchen on 10th Street, hopes for a similar outcome.
"This is my baby. I'm thinking about spring, getting my own spot," said the Le Cordon Bleu-trained Clark, who manages Zen Bento during the day and runs his pop-up at night with the help of another Zen Bento cook, Derek Freitag. "... I really love cooking dinners, so my idea would be to do GravEyard Monday to Sunday or whatever and close at 3 a.m., but then do special dinners, wine dinners and stuff, every month."
GravEyard first opened its walk-up window in October 2017, just in time for Halloween. Since then, it has served an often tipsy late-night crowd sporadically on weekends from 9:30 p.m.-2:30 a.m., giving devotees of its upscale, Southern-inspired fare (think microgreen-topped biscuits, polenta tater tots, and mushroom smoked-gouda gravy) a heads up over Facebook.
"We're definitely food guys, not marketing guys," said Freitag, repeating what could have been a mantra for the pop-up movement.
GravEyard also sets itself apart by offering gluten-free and vegan items—a niche also occupied by Thai pop-up Lime and a Coconut. In April, it hosted a five-course vegan Thai dinner out of the kitchen of local donut shop Guru Donuts.
"We've been offered brick and mortars, but we've actually turned those down at this point. We're liking the pace we're going. It feel sustainable, we're making our brand, we're building our community base," said Dr. Mike, a clinical psychologist who runs Lime and a Coconut with his wife, Chef E.
The couple first started serving up Chef E's pad Thai, Thai iced tea and green papaya salad at Capital City Public market three years ago, but has since expanded into monthly pop-up dinners at Guru, which run $40 per ticket and seat roughly 60 patrons in a family-style setting.
"We decided we wanted to offer more than our street food variety. So the pop-up enabled us to offer our regional dishes from around Thailand, and [they're] a little more gourmet-oriented," said Dr. Mike. The couple advertises its pop-ups at Guru, and on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. So far, they've all sold out in less than a week.
As for a future brick-and-mortar restaurant, Chef E. said, "We're thinking about it." In the meantime, the couple has invested in a food truck, aiming to increase the number of events they can cater each year.
While Figgy, GravEyard and Lime and a Coconut are all well established, they aren't the only pop-ups in town. Sable Baking, which started as a community breadshare, now has a home in the kitchen of French-inspired bistro Petite 4 on the Boise Bench, where Ashley Chapman bakes breads for the restaurant and hosts a pastry pop-up out of the kitchen's side door on Saturday mornings. Wild Plum Catering also hosts classy pop-up dinners themed around wines or single foods, like sausage, stretched into multi-course events. And the kitchen crew from State & Lemp, which is now under new ownership, have split from the restaurant to start Kin, a soon-to-be-brick-and-mortar currently hosting farm-to-table pop-up dinners, which keeps its followers updated through Instagram.
Still, Boise has a long way to go before it reaches a Portland- or Seattle-level pop-up concentration.
"I've had to explain to people while they're at the pop-up what a pop-up is, what that means," said Vestal. "For a lot of people, it's still a verb."