Thursday, 11 August 2011
The permanent 'pop-up' that may become a future model for the restaurant industry
Words: Mark Taylor
Photo: Natasha Lichodedova
There can be few food lovers who haven’t dreamed of running their own restaurant but don’t have the money to do it or can’t find the right venue.
Now, help is at hand thanks to an enterprising group of chefs who have launched a unique permanent venue where anybody can run their own food event, whether it’s the ultimate dinner party, a pop-up supper club or a full-on restaurant for the night.
Number 40 Alfred Place in Kingsdown, Bristol, has been various restaurants over the past two decades. A vegetarian restaurant in the 1990s, it was then Portuguese bistro A Cozinha for a decade before becoming the short-lived Alfred’s at the end of last year.
When the property fell empty again earlier this year, landlord Austin O’Baoighill and his business partner Rob Dennis were approached by two Bristol foodies with several years’ experience of working in some of the city’s best restaurants.
Robert Birse and Kate Hawkings came up with the idea to turn 40 Alfred Place into a permanent licensed space for people to hire out and be their own boss. Although the space is for hire for anything (“from a Scrabble night or ‘stitch and bitch’ evening to a private fine dining dinner”), the drive is to provide chefs with a pop-up platform.
Not only does the space have two floors with tables and chairs, it has a small bar and a well equipped kitchen.
And if you want to hold a dinner party or supper club and don’t want to cook, they can even supply a professional chef and bar staff for an additional cost.
There have been two successful pop-ups at 40 Alfred Place already. Last month’s successful Cavaville cava and tapas bar ran for four evenings and it was followed last weekend by the sell-out Fishstock, a fish feast organised by the 40 Alfred Place team in conjunction with Lido head chef Freddy Bird.
Rob Birse says 40 Alfred Place is a natural progression of the city’s burgeoning supper club and pop-up restaurant scene.
“It’s a matter of evolution. The whole supper club and pop-up thing has been growing and although it’s not mainstream, it’s a lot more common now.
“People have taken control of running their own places as a way of doing things affordably.
“At the same time, the economy is still dodgy and it’s very difficult to set up your own place.
“As a landlord, I would be a bit worried about putting a young talent in a place with a lease because it’s touch and go if they are going to make it in the first six months and then they have the headache of finding somebody else. This is more about landlords and budding restaurateurs and chefs meeting in the middle.”
Rob says the landlord of 40 Alfred Place has been very supportive of the venture and is now a partner in the fledgling business.
“For Austin, the rent gets paid and he stands to gain financially if it turns to profit in the end.
“But ultimately, he’s just really interested in the concept and we all hope it will become a model for a future concept in the catering industry.”
Whilst Rob accepts that pop-ups and supper clubs may only be followed by a small but committed group of foodies, he wants 40 Alfred Place to become open to a wider circle.
From August 22, the space will be used during the day as a neighbourhood café with free wi-fi access, coffee supplied by Bristol’s Extract Coffee Roasters and pastries from Hart’s Bakery.
Says Rob: “The realistic part of my brain is asking if we are constantly appealing to the same audience but when I was marketing Fishstock last week I realised there is a huge untapped foodie audience in Bristol.
“There are lots of people who have heard about pop-ups but don’t quite know what they were but think they sound exciting. Impromptu restaurants are a social thing as much as a foodie thing - you can go with a group of friends and there’s a sense of anticipation and excitement.
“Because this is not a supper club in somebody’s home, people may view it as a ‘safer’ or less intimidating option in some ways. I guess this is half way between the secret supper clubs and pop-ups and a ‘proper’ restaurant.”
There is a charge for the use of kitchen between Sunday and Thursday, which includes all the kit. On Friday and Saturday, it’s a flat fee.
The rates to hire 40 Alfred Place vary depending on the day but they start at £50 for a Monday night to £250 for a Saturday.
The basic kitchen is set up with enough kit to cook for 15 people quite easily and, for an additional sum, extra kit can be provided to enable people to cook for up to 40 guests.
Cutlery and crockery is all included, as is public liability insurance. All you have to pay is the hire fee and a refundable deposit for breakages or damage.
If you don’t want to cook, the organisers have a pool of chefs and experienced waiting staff they can pull in for the night.
As a chef, Rob says a temporary restaurant or one-off event also allows for more creativity in the kitchen.
“Chefs get complete freedom and they can do things they don’t get the opportunity to do in their usual restaurants.
“It’s a chance to earn a bit of extra money but it’s a bit of creative freedom and expression and it’s also a bit of fun.
“It doesn’t matter how creative a restaurant is, you are still stuck in the same kitchen all day every day so this allows chefs to step out of that, work in a completely different environment and cook for a different audience and that’s very exciting.”
So, is there a downside to all of this?
“Well, if it’s a terrible night and nobody turns up, the worst that can happen is that your ego might take a dent and you might lose a few quid on produce, but there’s no long lasting damage.”
For more information about 40 Alfred Place, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0117 9443060
This article first appeared in the Bristol Evening Post