Pop-up puts service to the test

michael mina

Michael Mina has built an empire operating higher-end restaurants. But the next concept on tap for him is a bit different than the rest. In fact, it didn’t start out as a restaurant at all.

“We were originally looking for a test kitchen, but we came across this space,” Mina says, referring to  a small bistro he purchased in San Francisco with 44 seats inside and another 12 on the patio. He plans to use the footprint to expand the model of a typical test kitchen to include service. In his yet-to-be-named test-kitchen/pop-up hybrid, he’s not just trying new menus, but collecting customer feedback as well. “The goal is to test out some concepts and see what works,” says Mina.

To ensure he gets a range of people in the door, Mina will offer food at a lower, “sensitive” price point compared to other restaurants in his portfolio.

The benefit of such a pop-up is the ability to be more interactive, says Mina. He’ll introduce a new concept every two to three months—the first will focus on Eastern Mediterranean cuisine—but the menu will change weekly. The restaurant will be open four days a week; two off days will be spent reviewing guest feedback to see what’s working, changing the menu to incorporate new dishes and making adjustments based on guests’ responses.

Because the focus constantly is changing, one challenge is getting the message to guests, he says. “How to communicate out the new menu or the next concept,” Mina says.

But if the team establishes a concept that is well-received and makes sense in the space, Mina will press the pause button, making it a permanent restaurant for dinner while still running a test operation during the day. 

More on Mina's new model

What are some challenges to this that traditional restaurants don’t face? 

Equipment is a big deal. For our first iteration, we need a low stone oven to cook bread. Adam Sobel [who runs the kitchen at RN74] and I are deciding what to lose to make room for it.

What other considerations need to be taken into account when you plan to rotate every few months? 

We’re buying some things, renting some. It’s all about storage. Take plateware, for example. We’re getting one white base and then renting patterned or stone ones.

Why are permanent pop-ups trending right now?

They let you express yourself but still have the overall umbrella of details, like your service staff, to bring ideas to life.


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