Braised & Glazed co-owner Taylor Ion interacting with a customer at a pop-up earlier this year | Ruta Smith file photo

While many new restaurants are opening across the city, there are just as many chefs popping up at breweries, events and even other kitchens. With no dedicated food truck, trailer or even brick-and-mortar buildings to operate out of, pop-ups bring sedans and pick-up trucks filled with equipment and food to their makeshift kitchens. 

“It’s definitely not the easiest way to start,” said Adrian Ion, owner and chef of Braised & Glazed, which serves handheld regional cuisine dishes. “But I would say it’s a good way to kind of test the market and see what sells and what doesn’t.” 

Despite concepts like Braised & Glazed seemingly just “popping up” at events or in kitchens, there’s a lot that happens behind the scenes. 

“I think the biggest misconception is that we’re just here popping up our tent and selling,” added Taylor Ion, Adrian’s wife and co-owner of Braised & Glazed. “No, we’re just as good as any other truck or trailer or brick and mortar, for that matter. We all are operating … through the same type of process. It’s just the way we do it is a lot different.”

Pop-ups, like any restaurant, are still required to get business licenses and approval from city and state organizations, like the fire marshall and Department of Health and Environmental Control. 

Some mandatory inspections are done through commissary kitchens, offsite kitchen spaces rented by chefs for food preparation and post-pop-up cleaning. 

Jared Sullivan, owner of newly established pop-up Wild Card, said getting those licenses and approvals were the hardest for him. “That is a huge hurdle that you don’t really think about before you start,” he said.

Wild Card, which hosted its first pop-up in August, has held five events at places like Munkle Brewing Co., Two Blokes Brewing and Game Night in Park Circle, serving menu items like lumpia (a Filipino eggroll), tostadas and burritos. Sullivan, who’s had tenure at places like Chubby Fish, works alongside his girlfriend Chelsea Christian, a chef at Slightly North of Broad. Sullivan said he likes to cook Mexican-inspired cuisine, while his partner incorporates her Filipino background into the menu by with creations like lumpia, pozole verde and adobo sauce. 

While Mexican and Filipino flavors inspire the menu, Wild Card’s ultimate goal is “to make Guy Fieri proud,” according to its Instagram page. 

Planning a pop-up requires a lot of effort — extra labor, offsite prepwork, moving large equipment, setting up, breaking down and cleaning after service.

To streamline the process, pop-ups work with hosting venues in advance.

“It’s a lot of constant communication, said Trent Caldwell, who’s in charge of booking pop-ups for Munkle Brewing Co. on Meeting Street Road. “I send out an email at least once a quarter with all of our available dates to our food vendors … and it’s sort of first come, first serve.”

Some pop-ups have biweekly residencies or show up frequently on Munkle’s monthly rotating food vendor schedule, like Mexican-inspired Tacos de la Bahia run by San Francisco-transplant Jeremy Weiss, Wild Card and Braised & Glazed. 

Scouting locations ahead of time helps pop-up chefs curate their menus.

“Logistics plays a huge role in what we do and how we operate,” Taylor said. “We can’t just pull up and fire up the grill. Adrian and I always scout out places we’re going to operate beforehand for that specific reason.”

Sullivan added, “You’re always kind of having to tailor [to] wherever you are. Do I bring my electric flat top or do I bring the propane? Maybe a generator?” 

Nikko Cagalanan, chef and owner of pop-up Mansueta’s has been serving Filipino cuisine in the Lowcountry for just over two years. He can be found in kitchens at places like Little Miss Ha or Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co., collaborating with other chefs for unique dining experiences.  

“Every restaurant has a different setup, a different kitchen,” Cagalanan said. “So you have to base your menu on the kitchen setup, and the availability of their equipment.”

Even with all that planning, pop-ups can’t predict other challenges.

“In some cases, you know, stuff does happen,” said Palmer Quimby, owner of Munkle Brewing. “So you need to be a little bit nimble and be able to pivot if something falls out, or something happens.”

Fortunately, the pop-up and food truck community remain tight knit, according to Sullivan, especially for someone relatively new to the game. 

“It’s been a lot of working together with other pop-ups,” he said. “There’s no animosity and opposition. I think because we all realize this is pretty hard.” 

Pop-ups are about more than just the chefs; the places that host pop-ups are just as important. 

“It’s been a very symbiotic kind of thing,” said  Sullivan. “It’s been great. … It’s always a really good vibe. Everything is super respectful both ways, and we’re just all in it together.”

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