Seattle’s pop-up scene has been alive for years as many restaurants, including the Filipino hotspot Musang on Beacon Hill and more recently Surrell on Capitol Hill, started out as small businesses. But the COVID-19 pandemic paused many pop-ups as the rooms where most of them took place were closed for months. While pop-up chefs didn’t cost quite the same as permanent restaurants, it put many in a precarious position.
“I’m not eligible for loans or most of the small business grants, and I couldn’t make up for the losses from canceled events over the past few months,” said Chef Cam Hanin of the popular guerrilla pizza kitchen, Eater Seattle recently told Eater Seattle. “In the meantime, we’ve used donations to provide food to feed the community.”
Hanin has served food at Musang-launched Seattle Community Kitchen Collective and offers meals in partnership with Urban Fresh Food Collective’s Neighbor to Neighbor program. This nonprofit approach has been an area where many of the city’s pop-up chefs have made their move, be it Tarik Abdullah of Midnight Mecca or those serving people in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) room on Capitol Hill .
But there are other signs of activity as well, as dining rooms and breweries reopen with limited capacity. Brothers and Co. – Seth and Zachary Pacleb’s siblings Seth and Zachary Pacleb’s Asian-influenced ramen and taco operation – had to be adapted. Although it has built a following in the area’s farmers’ markets, those markets are still not allowed to serve hot food, which is why the pop-up has been looking for other venues. It’ll be at Fair Isle Brewing in Ballard on Friday, and Shio Koji will be marinated, fried with garnishes like a Hawaiian noodle salad, kimchi queso and fries and grilled vegetables.
Since Washington’s stay-at-home ordering was first introduced, Babalio’s monthly pop-ups, focused on Tawainese, have had to switch from serving full meals to providing meal sets on the go. The next event takes place on June 28 at the Plenty of Clouds Chinese restaurant on Capitol Hill and features Slack Season Noodle, a surf and lawn noodle dish from southern Taiwan. Babalio also plans to serve a green curry seafood stew made with products and ingredients largely donated by chefs, suppliers and farmers. The popup will collect and pool the proceeds from this court to support FEEST, an organization of young BIPOC leaders who advocate and uphold the accessibility and safety of food in lower income areas. (Disclosure: Babalio chef Tiffany Ran works on freelance writing assignments for Eater Seattle.)
For the past few months, the pop-up Three Sacks Full by chef Michael Tsai and sommelier Matthew Curtis at La Medusa in Columbia City has served seasonal dishes with locally sourced ingredients such as asparagus, lamb, and pork crepinets, and shiitake mushrooms, and beet ragout. She has also donated a portion of the proceeds to organizations like Columbia Legal Services, which work to promote racial and economic justice and justice by providing underserved communities with legal expertise.
But the exact line between pop-ups and full-service restaurants can now be blurred as almost every chef or owner had to adjust the way they serve people during the pandemic.
In the early days of Washington’s stay-at-home order, Queen Anne’s gourmet destination Canlis attempted a burger drive-through (it has since switched to mostly family meal deliveries). The Hawaiian-Thai fusion spot Buddha Bruddah in South Seattle recently introduced a grill popup in their back area. Chef Preeti Agarwal’s Meesha, who serves some of the best Indian dishes in town in Pomerol, Fremont, offers take-away items Friday through Sunday, including moong dal chilla (a lentil crepe), fish curry, and crispy pakoras with cauliflower and asparagus.
Chef Melissa Miranda from Musang has come full circle, announcing last month that even if her restaurant decides to resume dining, it will likely include more preset menus and limited seating: “A throwback to our pop-up Days. “