Pop-up case study: Mark Lloyd
For professional chef Mark Lloyd, pop-ups offer an exciting rebrand to the restaurant scene, as well as a quirky business model.
Ex-River Cottage head chef Mark Lloyd is known for championing wild food foraging, a movement that has become trendier as we become more aware of the food on our plates. He has cooked in professional kitchens for over 15 years, so is no stranger to the rewards and demands of a restaurant, but also, its limitations. Now he’s joining with friend Lee Beehan, who’s famed for his Friday Food Club, and taking it out of Lee’s flat in Blackheath to hold a Clapham-based pop-up next month.
“The main reason we want to start it up again is because of overheads,” explains Mark. “We can do deals with local restaurants and sell ticket only, which creates interest for the restaurant and allows us to get out to more and more venues.”
It’s a simple formula which smacks of win-win. “Chefs have taken over everything from restaurants to garage forecourts. It’s about finding a venue, and about reducing your overheads. Right now we’re talking to Ham House about a Midsummer Night’s Dream theme for summer.”
Being imaginative with a venue can lend itself to cooks for being equally creative with their menus or aim to popularise eating certain foods. And more importantly, they offer an extra level to the restaurant dining experience we’re all used to. “We don’t send a menu out beforehand, but chances are we’ll do between five and seven courses with drinks, and our guests are going to be eating something that’s new” says Mark.
So why does he think this style of dining is becoming more popular? Are we falling out of love with restaurants?
“If you look back through time, it [the dining experience] has been rebranded. Most chefs have done guest nights in their other chef friends’ restaurants, but what’s happening now is it’s being rebranded as a pop-up, and it could be anywhere. It allows that chef to get out of the kitchen, and an audience gets to eat their food that they may not have been able to because of price or because they don’t actually have a restaurant.”
Pop-ups have previously allowed Mark to partner with other well-known chefs including former Masterchef contestants Dhruv Baker and Lisa Faulkner for a charity dining event, and to take diners on a foraging walk before cooking their finds for them later.
“I think the unique thing about pop-ups is they are ever changing and they enable chefs to get out to see and feed an audience they may not usually feed. Kitchens are sterile metal boxes. The next thing you’ve got chefs cooking in a marquee — then you know they’re a great chef!”