Restaurant News

New Restaurant Cycle: Trendy Pop-Up or Something Else?

Hey Phoenix, welcome to the pop-up restaurant party. Fashionable late as always, Phoenix is about to get its first taste of the foodie trend that has already hit major cities like San Fransisco, New York and Bozeman, Montana. The new restaurant project Cycle, which opens its doors this Friday in the restaurant space of the Lexington hotel, is touting itself as the "First" pop-up restaurant in Phoenix.

But it is it really a pop-up restaurant? And, is it really the first?

This question sparked a bit of a debate between a couple New Times staffers and made us wonder, what exactly is a true pop-up restaurant?

To be completely honest, I had no idea what a pop-up restaurant was until a recent trip to San Francisco, where I had the opportunity to feast at the pop-up spot Mission Street Chinese. Confused about why the sign on the restaurant said something totally different than where I was told we were eating, I asked questions and was met with a curt, "Haven't you ever heard of a pop-up restaurant?"

"Yeah, uh, no. I'm from Phoenix" was my response. Which led to a lengthy conversation about pop-up this and pop-up that, and I walked away thinking I had a good handle on the concept. A chef or culinary collaborative sets up shop in a pre-existing restaurant for an unknown amount of time and feeds people a frequently changing menu. Right?

So first off, let's define "pop-up" restaurant. Since it hasn't quite made it onto yet, we must rely purely on how the internet masses define it. My favorite definition is from the Guerrilla Culinary Brigade, which does one-off culinary events nationwide.

"Guerrilla culinary is a form of irregular restaurant or gastronomic event, as know as a POP-UP RESTAURANT, in which a small group of foodies including but not limited to, chefs, restauranteurs, and creative minds use underground culinary tactics along with extraordinary imagination, the element of surprise, and astonishing mobility to harass larger and less mobile restaurants, there by creating memorable culinary and social moments that exist briefly and disappear almost immediately."

Or the more straight-forward Facebook definition, "Pop-up restaurant -- A venue that is turned into a restaurant featuring a chef and culinary team that is normally not in that kitchen or venue for a limited period of time."

Just so we're straight, a group of people or a single chef decide to open up shop in place where they wouldn't/shouldn't be, feed a bunch of restless foodies and then just as quick as they came, bail.

Did we get that right? Are we all on the same page?

If so, then wouldn't chef Eric Gitenstein's MF Tasty be considered a pop-up restaurant? It's refered to as "underground dining" -- but what's the difference?  What about Monti's Culinary Masters Series? Guest chefs takin' over the kitchen for one special night seems pop-up-ish. In fact, Noca and Petite Maison have been inviting guest chefs into their kitchens for some time now. Is it only a pop-up if you call it a pop-up?

Then where does that put Cycle? Yes, they set up shop in a pre-existing kitchen but they don't have a chef or a culinary collaborative. They are relying on people to come to them with the ideas, the talent, and the food. Seems like they are just providing a space.

Okay, Cycle, are you a pop-up restaurant? We don't think so. Are you the "first" pop-up in Phoenix? Not really. Are you a one-of-a-kind VENUE for a wide variety of chefs and creative types to take a break from the norm to do something fun and unexpected? Yes. Are we super stoked that someone is taking the initiative to do something different in Phoenix even if it is in our own back-ass Phoenix style? Hell, yes. Good luck Cycle, we look forward to see what you have in store for us for the next few months.

Cycle opens this Friday with eats from the Hey Joe Filipino Street Food truck and by-reservation-only tasting with Tracy Dempsey (tasting is sold out) and specialty cocktails. Happy hour starts at 4 p.m. See you there!

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Shannon Armour
Contact: Shannon Armour