from One Degree Cafe to Ministry of Crab

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The ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ culture has become a staple of the UAE’s culinary landscape, as restaurants and pop-up vendors are springing up across the UAE. You can seek or stumble on everything from plant-based delicacies and gold-sprinkled steak burgers, to beach-side food trucks and intimate 12-seat chef’s tables.

Inspired by supper clubs dating back to the 1960s, pop-ups and underground restaurants were all the rage half a century ago. The trend has made a comeback as modern, discerning diners are still looking for alternatives to the usual restaurants, as well as, in part, the uncertainty caused by the pandemic (even the current best restaurant in the world, Noma at Copenhagen, launched a pop-up burger joint in May 2020).

Pop-ups are also a great platform to showcase a chef’s culinary talent, appealing to both discerning foodies and curious passers-by. The limited time and places serve to generate buzz and create a sense of urgency. Also perfect for young and emerging brands, pop-ups can offer everything from an exclusive one-night dining event to a dining experience that spans the UAE’s cooler months.

One Degree Cafe, for example, is a winter pop-up located on the Dubai-Sharjah border, about a 40-minute drive from downtown Dubai. Located in the middle of the desert, it offers dune views, majlis-style seating, and fare such as burgers, hot dogs, and fries, as well as high-quality tea, coffee, and shakes. quality.

Due to its short-term nature – which leaves a small margin for word of mouth – attracting repeat customers may be one of the downsides of a pop-up booth, but then again, this exclusivity is also its USP. Arguably, the cult following One Degree Cafe enjoys is due to the fact that it closes as soon as the weather warms up.

A seasonal trend

The holiday season and other time-limited events also lend themselves well to pop-up culture. For example, the various custom-created “winter wonderlands” in malls across the Emirates, which offer everything from gingerbread and turkey stations to homemade cookies and candy canes.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, meanwhile, saw a number of pop-ups per The Italian Way by Peroni Nastro Azzurro, who was present at Filini Garden at Radisson Blu Hotel, Amici Terrace at W Abu Dhabi and Stills at Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi. A branch of Dubai’s Il Borro Tuscan Kitchen also made an appearance at the Yas Marina Circuit, as well as Nobu, making its Abu Dhabi debut.

So what’s the appeal for business owners?

“It’s a safe bet where we don’t have to risk it all and has a lot of potential to grow the brand we present for the future,” says Hamad Alawar, co-founder of High Joint and The Phil by High. , a Philadelphia cheesesteak pop-up that currently serves rib eye, grilled Wagyu and other prime cuts (alongside provolone cheese and caramelized onions in a buttery roll) at Market Outside the Box, which is part of the Dubai Shopping Festival, at Burj Park until December 31.

Mihbash Bubble Tea is another vendor to watch out for during the DSF. Founder Yazan says, “Pop-ups such as those organized by DSF are impactful and strategic for food and beverage outlets. Through such events, companies can test new territory of markets and of different clienteles that they would not normally be exposed to in their flagship branches, without the heavy expense of a new store.

Marcus Sutton, General Manager, Zabeel House by Jumeirah, The Greens, agrees. “Pop-ups, like Vista Del Verde, our Mexican concept, are a great way for us to showcase new ideas. It gives us the freedom to be flexible and has a cost advantage that we don’t get with permanent spaces. It also gives the team an edge to be more creative and test out unique ideas, and build a reputation and following.

“Make products more accessible”

While most entrepreneurs seek to attract a wider clientele with their makeshift stalls, sometimes a vendor pops up to cater to a specific culinary group. Earlier this year, online store Not Just For Vegans teamed up with Thrift For Good to launch a one-day vegan market in the Palm Jumeirah. Brands such as Grawtitude, which makes plant-based cheeses, were on offer; Veghana, which serves okra, fonio and other plant-based dishes from West African cuisine; and the House of Pops brand of natural popsicles.

“It’s about raising awareness and making these products more accessible,” says Carly Dubery, founder of Not Just For Vegans.

Sugargram is an old gold that can often be found at various pop-up events across the country. Taking advantage of its stand, the brand not only serves its iconic cupcakes, but also offers limited-time creations. At the recently concluded Beach Canteen and the ongoing MOTB, for example, she launched a unicorn-inspired ice cream with flavors of pink vanilla and chocolate, garnished with nuggets and sauces.

Sugargram's Uni-Cone ice cream is a new creation for its pop-ups.

“As we are an online brand, pop-ups are a great opportunity to interact with our customers,” says Elaf Patel, founder of Sugargram. “It was also a lot of fun creating the Uni-Cone, something that everyone in the ‘sugarfam’ has been obsessed with, but which we could never deliver.

“The best part of being in a pop-up is the guests we meet; you feel like they’re consciously looking for local businesses to support.”

Local brands are also all the rage at the various farmers’ markets that are popping up in parks across the UAE. Popular brand Ripe Market, for example, introduces visitors to local vendors displaying and selling everything from sauces and chutneys to artisan breads and other baked goods.

On a more global stage, popular Sri Lankan restaurant Ministry of Crab is erecting pop-ups across the globe, from Abu Dhabi to London, the latest passing through Dubai last month.

At the Expo 2020 Dubai site is Bombay Brasserie, the Indian restaurant at Taj Dubai, which is hosting a food pop-up at the India Pavilion, offering visitors the chance to sample flavors from various states across the country. .

The Bombay Brasserie pop-up at Expo 2020 Dubai serves dishes from many Indian states.  Photo: Taj Dubai

“The phrase ‘good things come in small packages’ fits perfectly with F&B pop-up concepts,” says Raghu Deora, executive chef at Taj Hotels. “For a chef and his team, it’s an exciting challenge to work outside the comfort of their kitchen, it allows for more creativity and can broaden the demographics and geography of the outlet.

“For a customer, a pop-up is a great opportunity to experience a ‘lighter version’ of the original outlet or sample the best selection at a different, often more affordable venue. Traditionally, a pop-up offers a selection of best-sellers, which allows the culinary team to diversify the offer and change the menu regularly. And customers get an improved experience.

“For example, at the Bombay Brasserie pop-up, we have a regional thali that changes every two weeks. This way we can meet the needs of multicultural visitors. In a competitive market like Dubai, the pop-up scene is full of high-quality, exciting and popular outlets that offer customers multiple options, suitable for everyone from the food connoisseur to the casual passer-by interested in a quick bite.

The ultimate goal is to generate enough loyalty and curiosity to attract customers to the flagship restaurant once the pop-up’s makeshift walls are demolished.

Updated: December 28, 2021, 06:24

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