Summer pop-up restaurant craze hits Chicago

New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. have played host this craze in the past

Pop-up restaurants may not be new to the culinary scene at large, but the geographic concentration of their popularity is an ever-changing trend that continues to shift each year.

Pop-ups have spent the last few summers keeping hungry foodies busy and buzzing in major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C., and this year, Chicago is the latest destination ripe with the temporary eateries.

Diners in the Windy City will find themselves with options ranging from upscale cocktails and lobster rolls from PT at The Talbott Hotel to a cool summer treat from the Ice Cream Shop at David Burke’s Primehouse. Even the city’s annual food festival, Taste of Chicago, is tapping into the summer trend’s popularity. For the first time, the city said that 15 restaurants will make their debut at the festival in a pop-up format, giving each one a day to showcase their best dishes during the festivities.

However, regardless of the fare or the setting, the idea behind pop-ups remains universal — non-permanent restaurants that are either a new concept or an off-site location of an already well-established brand. And while their execution can range from the simple to the complex, all variations provide unique opportunities and challenges to those trying to pull them off.

“The financial aspect is much different,” said Alfredo Sandoval, managing partner at Mercadito Hospitality Group, who, along with mixologists the Tippling Bros., is behind PT at The Talbott. “You limit your resources knowing it is only for a few months. It doesn’t take away from the product; you just aren’t buying antique chairs or new glassware.”

Sandoval and his partners opened PT at The Talbott Hotel while the hotel’s permanent restaurant was under construction. The menu offers upscale-casual dishes like grilled pizzas and ceviche, as well as cocktails like the Basil & Grapes, made of dry gin, white grapes, fresh basil, lemon and tonic water. All seating is on the 120-seat patio of the hotel’s previous restaurant.

Sandoval said he didn't know what to expect going into the endeavor, but with cooperative summer weather in Chicago, he says the restaurant is doing volume that he is comfortable with — comfortable enough that he's interested in further exploring the format. He's currently discussing opening up a Mercadito pop-up location for July 4 in the Hamptons in New York.

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