Wiley Frank spends most nights as sous chef at the upscale restaurant Lark. But once a week, Frank and his wife, Poncharee Kounpungchart, transform the nearby Licorous lounge into a pop-up restaurant featuring Thai cuisine.
If you missed the fried rice with pungent shrimp paste at Shophouse Seattle on a recent Monday night, you’ll have to wait to try the down-home Thai joint the next Monday.
Shophouse creator Wiley Frank spends most nights as sous chef at the upscale restaurant Lark. But once a week, Frank and his wife, Poncharee Kounpungchart, transform the nearby Licorous bar, 928 12th Ave., 206-325-6947, into an eatery dedicated to simple, authentic Thai food.
Service begins at 5 p.m. and closes at midnight unless they run out of food earlier, and if so Frank says you can still get a drink at Licorous.
His venture is just one permutation of an emerging class of restaurants called pop-ups. For chefs, pop-ups are a way to test new dishes, let off some creative steam, expand their brand to new neighborhoods and otherwise take risks without the hefty upfront investment required for a traditional restaurant.
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In Frank’s case, the pop-up is an outlet for his entrepreneurial tendencies that — unlike starting a full-on restaurant — leaves him time to spend with his family.
When we caught up with Frank via email he described the food on the Shophouse Seattle menu as “Down home Thai … Street food — partly. One can find a lot of our food served on the street, like ‘hoy tord’ broken rice crepe with mussels or ‘nua kem’ beef jerky and sticky rice. However, we find our real inspiration from the shophouse restaurants just off the street where one can find small humble family businesses that have perfected the dishes and variations of those dishes.
“We try to emulate the care taken by these shophouse restaurants by sticking to traditional techniques and sourcing quality ingredients whether it be Tra Chang fish sauce from Rayong, Thailand, or cilantro root from Oxbow Farms from Carnation, USA.”
“I’m not sure I would call what we do a restaurant,” wrote Frank. “Labeling what we do as a restaurant might imply we actually own a brick and mortar, which confuses the heck out of people.” His local venture popped up Oct. 11. Frank said “you can check out the progression of menus on our website” — www.shophouseseattle.comAnd if you miss Frank and his wife on Monday nights at Shophouse look for them at the Columbia City Farmer’s Market from 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays, where Thai Street Food is their specialty.
Pop-up restaurants, together with food trucks, were voted the top operational trend for 2011 by chefs surveyed by the National Restaurant Association. Pop-ups are gaining traction as culinary schools crank out a growing number of chefs eager to reach a younger generation of restaurant-goers with an increasingly sophisticated palate. Plus, the rise of social media gives these entrepreneurs a way to generate buzz quickly for a temporary eatery.
Money plays a big part in pop-ups’ appeal. Bonnie Riggs, an industry analyst for market researchers NPD Group, said that while restaurant traffic has started to recover after declines during the economic downturn, growth is expected to be essentially flat for the next few years.
Especially among independent and high-end restaurants, which were hit the hardest during the recession. Creativity and innovation can be easier to execute with a pop-up than a traditional restaurant, which needs to satisfy investors looking for a return.
Opening a pop-up isn’t without hassles or risks. Each city has its own set of rules when it comes to securing licenses and permits. While the financial risk is lower than opening a traditional restaurant, pop-up operators still need capital.
Pop-ups are quickly moving from fringe to mainstream — even Martha Stewart has gotten in on the action, opening a pop-up pie shop in New York for two days in March to celebrate a new book of pie and tart recipes.
And the 25-year-old culinary institution, the James Beard Foundation, took over a vacant spot in New York’s Chelsea Market for a pop-up it is calling JBF LTD. The sold-out dinners run through Saturday and feature guest chefs from Los Angeles to Paris.
Sharon Lane, Food Editor of The Seattle Times, contributed to this article.