The ongoing COVID-19 restrictions on dine-in service in Michigan have not only negatively impacted restaurants, but employees, suppliers, and consumers. Those working at Michigan restaurants have had to tap into their creative sides during the pandemic to come up with solutions for keeping the lights on while safely serving their communities. This includes increasing takeout and delivery options, offering carryout cocktails, and providing more outdoor dining spaces. There’s now a growing number of pop-ups and limited run events from chefs available in and around Ann Arbor, too.
By “borrowing” spaces and other resources from restaurants, those running pop-ups avoid outrageous start-up costs and can easily fine tune menus. Pop-ups also allow restaurants the opportunity to lend out underutilized kitchens in an effort to bring in additional revenue. But for some restaurants, such as Ann Arbor’s York and Ypsilanti’s community-oriented Cultivate, regularly hosting pop-ups and food trucks has always been part of the plan.
When York made the transition from specialty grocer to full-service bar, there were visions of hosting guest food trucks and pop-ups in the wine garden, complete with live music and DJs. “The pandemic meant that it went from something we want to do to something we HAVE to do,” says Tommy York, who describes the relationships as a win-win. “It gets business for them, and for York, in the form of beverages here and to-go.”
Jordan Balduf’s Side Biscuit has made appearances at both York and Cultivate. The pop-ups have been vital for the chef, with the opening of his brick and mortar location now delayed due to signage issues with the city. “In the meantime, we have been doing events to draw hype, stay relevant and promote our future space,” says Balduf.
Miss Kim, Ann Arbor’s popular modern Korean restaurant, routinely held special dining events featuring collaborations with chef Ji Hye Kim and visiting chefs and producers from across the country. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Miss Kim has remained open for takeout and expanded offerings to include pantry items and meal kits. In recent months, the restaurant hosted pop-ups with fellow James Beard nominee Max Sussman of New York’s Samesa as well as with local chefs. In the coming weeks, Miss Kim plans to host a pop-up concept with chef Omar Anani of Detroit’s much-heralded Moroccan outlet Saffron De Twah.
While nothing replaces dining rooms at full capacity, hosting pop-ups provides a silver lining. Katie Jozwiak, Miss Kim’s front of house manager, says the experience has been energizing. “Sharing the space, collaborating on the menu, and learning from the guests has allowed them to connect with our community — producers, chefs, and most importantly, our customers,” say Jozwiak. “This means even more for all of us in the current pandemic.”
For Amanda Fisher, the pandemic hit twice. Like many in the restaurant industry, her catering business suspended its operations. Then she and her family were diagnosed with COVID-19. “When we recovered, I wanted to focus on positives in my life,” she says. “I had to figure out what was important to me, what I loved doing and what clients would enjoy and appreciate with the current restrictions.”
With this renewed perspective, Fisher launched Shuk (Hebrew for “marketplace”), which strives to bring the energy and flavors of Middle Eastern markets to Ann Arbor.
Married couple Amie Anderson and Jamie Krake launched It’s a Good Day Donuts in January 2020 in order to “spread joy through fun and tasty treats.” They were able put on a couple of pop-up events prior to the start of the health crisis in preparation for their original goal of providing donuts for a summer season cafe. When equipment issues led to the cafe’s closing, Anderson and Krake switched back to weekly deliveries around town. They still hope to open a permanent spot in 2021.
“We create themes around what we value and love. From LGBT rights, politics, to our love for our community of Ypsilanti, our family, or something as simple as our favorite flavors, movies, and family traditions.”
John Moors took his enthusiasm for Mexican cuisine and developed hot sauces and tacos in hopes of transitioning from retail to the restaurant industry. With the help of family and friends, he launched Lucha Puerco from his home, until a neighborhood traffic jam necessitated another option. Moors now operates from a commercial kitchen, allowing him to comply with health codes and increase the number of meals served.
Here’s where to enjoy restaurant pop-ups around Ann Arbor
Basil Babe: The mother-daughter duo makes dumplings and curries using recipes developed in their decades of experience as former owners of local Thai favorite Siam Square. They’ve collaborated with Miss Kim and will be at York on February 27.
Chef G: This local chef has held several pop-ups featuring fresh, handmade Italian pasta. For his February 20 pop-up at York, he’ll be slinging Cubano sandwiches.
It’s a Good Day Donuts: Doughnuts and other sweet treats are available for weekly delivery and at pop-ups on the second Sunday of each month, with the next pop-up taking place at Sweetwaters’ Plymouth and Green location on Valentine’s Day.
Juicy Oistre: Fresh oysters and ceviche are amongst the seafood specialties available from this local duo. Check the website for future dates.
Lucha Puerco: Their “fun interpretation of Mexican cuisine stays as “authentic as possible” and can be found in the Ann Arbor area twice a month. Check the website for future dates, including a pop-up at York on January 22.
Miss Kim: Every Wednesday throughout February, Miss Kim plans to host a pop-up concept with Saffron De Twah, along with Saturday brunches with Lala’s Allie Lyttle. Customers can pre-order online (recommended) and pick up safely at Miss Kim.
Shuk: Shuk’s meals, “inspired by the vibrant tastes, spices, and atmospheres of marketplaces in the Middle East,” come fully prepared for final heating at home and can be found at York on January 22, with future dates announced on the website.
Side Biscuit: Buffalo native Jordan Balduf serves his hometown’s signature chicken wings using influences and techniques gained through his experiences in the kitchens of restaurants like Takoi, Zingerman’s, and Brooklyn’s former Michelin-starred Pok Pok. Check the website for announcements of future pop-ups, including dates at York and Cultivate in the coming weeks.
The Pizza Replicator: Billed as “Ann Arbor’s Best Star Trek The Next Generation-themed” pizzeria pop-up, the Pizza Replicator serves Neapolitan-style pizzas every Sunday at Roos Roast Coffee. The rotating menu includes standard toppings and eclectic offerings, like a white pizza with kabocha squash and a chorizo pizza with grilled poblanos.