This past week I managed to catch up with a friend of mine, who is a former coworker and neighbor. In true New York City fashion, we lived in buildings next door to each other and worked in the same office for nearly a year before we realized we were neighbors.
We met in Hell’s Kitchen at a pop-up restaurant. It was a pop-up called Pop Up Ramen that was being hosted by BQ Ramen in a restaurant called Co Ba 53 on 53rd Street near 9th Ave. The BQ of BQ Ramen in this context means homemade, authentic Japanese food—I had no idea and assumed it was some kind of fusion place that mixed barbecue with Ramen noodles. I was completely prepared to see a pig roasting on a spit. There was no Southern style barbecue there but I was not disappointed. The food was great.
It was my first pop-up restaurant experience, at least that I’m aware of. I may not notice these things. At first glance the pop-up trend could be viewed as a silly fad and you most often hear about it in the context of very trendy things that life on hype and excel and taking money quickly from ignorant hipsters and tourists. But pop-ups can serve a real purpose.
My friend knows the husband and wife team who were running this specific pop-up and theirs is a great New York story. They each arrived in New York from Japan during the city’s crime-ridden years of the yearly 1990s with little money and almost no proficiency in English and they each became successful in their respective fields.
This pop-up is a way for them to generate interest in their business. To open a restaurant in New York is extremely expensive and risky. The costs of renting or buying real estate on top of investing in equipment and staff means hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential debt, and the restaurant business is extremely competitive. Other kinds of stores face similar odds and large costs. A temporary restaurant or store can prove a business model to potential investors while establishing a customer base. Pop-ups themselves are a good way to let good ideas thrive and bad ideas fail before anyone has lost too much money on it.
The dinner at Pop-Up Ramen was outstanding and it was delicious food with conversation that veered from city living to religion and politics and back again to city life. I regret I couldn’t stay longer but I had a long journey home. If there is another Pop-Up Ramen or BQ Ramen restaurant established I will be sure to go there.
Hell’s Kitchen is a vibrant place and while it has a great nightlife and restaurant scene, it’s avoided the kinds of obnoxious crowds that now over populate the city’s more trendy neighborhoods of Williamsburg and the Lower East Side. It was a weeknight and the spring air brought people outside and the neighborhood has still kept some of the grit that made it interesting even though it’s suffered some of the same gentrification and commodification that’s affected the entire city.
I made my way through the Hell’s Kitchen night with a promise to return.