Written by Molly Lautamo (mollylautamo.com)
Photography by Allison Garcia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
June’s event, PopUp, attracted over 170 people eager to hear the stories of eight local food entrepreneurs who are starting to dominate the Santa Cruz food scene. Attendees lined up outside An Epicurious Lifestyle’s (AEL) commercial kitchen, everyone eager to enter a courtyard filled with tables of savory & sweet hors-d’oeuvres served by innovative chefs who were just as eager to share their creations.
But before we go on — what exactly is a pop-up? Here’s our definition as it pertains to the world of food:
A “restaurant” that lacks a brick and mortar location of its own.
A pop-up jumps from place to place, serving hungry and adventurous folks out of backyards, private kitchens, festivals, and innovative public spaces that feature a different chef every night of the week. Some pop-ups make regular appearances at a set location and others keep you on your toes, making it feel like Christmas whenever you discover their next location.
The nature of a pop-up allows for the chef to experiment and be more adventurous in his or her offerings, so one night your favorite pop-up could be serving chicken pot pie and the next, Japanese ramen. (Thank you, Back Porch for being guilty of this “cuisine schizophrenia.”)
A pop-up can also be a temporary shop selling non-food items. A pop-up is technically any business without a permanent location. Instead, it “pops up” at different spots around town that are willing to host them, just like Event Santa Cruz!
This fun trend has been catching on here in Santa Cruz over the past couple years but has really begun to spread and take hold over the past few months. With the opening of the Food Lounge in March, Assembly’s POPUP addition in spring of last year, and chef takeovers at local hot spots like Midtown Cafe and Lúpulo, “pop-up” seemed like the perfect theme for June’s event.
Didn’t make it? Here’s what you missed:
PopUp Sampling: Potato on a Spoon and Rice Krispie Treats on a Toothpick
The evening started with an hour of mingling and noshing in AEL’s courtyard. The chefs behind some of Santa Cruz’s best pop-ups served bite-sized tastes of their unique creations. We also got to see and buy Humble Sea Brewery’s first batch of hand made shirts (Yes, the shirts were awesome!)
Attendees sampled everything from pulled pork sliders by LionFish SupperClub to toasted coconut and chocolate rice krispie treats by MÄKSĒ BAR. Ty’s Eatery highlighted sweet summer melon in a fresh, bright salsa and Plate & Bottle offered three types of potato on a spoon (baked, crumbles and pureed), lemon curd with shortbread and whip cream, and a decadent chocolate mousse studded with mini chocolate chips.
Mutari Chocolate sampled their thick, rich sipping chocolates and Mortal Dumpling also featured Mutari’s chocolate in solid form inside an airy mochi. Soquel Vineyard provided a mixed red wine and chardonnay to complement the range of flavors (and enhance the excited buzz of conversation). We also got to
The Night’s Main Course
After going back for seconds (trying at least one of everything on the table was heartily encouraged) the crowd of well-dressed foodies took their seats for the main course: the colorful stories behind the delicious pop-ups.
Folding chairs filled AEL’s high-ceilinged commercial kitchen and spilled out into the courtyard. Guitarist and singer Ian Janco, clad in a felt hat and sharp black vest, set the mood with two upbeat love songs before the night’s featured guests took to the stage.
The evening featured eight pop-up entrepreneurs, each telling their unique heartwarming story of how and why they became involved in food. Standing behind a giant metal shelving unit filled with mixing spoons and spatulas, boxes of cane sugar, and giant bottles of olive oil, AEL owners, Adrienne and Marci, welcomed everyone to the event and their kitchen.
The women set the tone for the night, “You come into our space as friends and you leave as family.” Each of the speakers had a similar sentiment: Food is what brings us together. It’s what builds community, and this seems especially true of pop-ups.
Here’s a summary of what the night’s speakers had to say and how to get ahold of their meals-on-the-move:
LionFish SupperClub: Zachary Mazi
When Zachary moved from Portland, Oregon to Santa Cruz he was surprised by the lack of food carts. Inspired by Portland’s happening food truck scene, Zachary decided to take the roving restaurant idea and make it a fine-dining experience. He now offers prix fixe meals, served in beautiful outdoor settings out of private homes, farms, and wineries. Zachary gravitated to the life of a chef after asking himself “How can I be the best human I can be on this planet?” He realized the answer for him was “cook amazing food,” and that’s what he’s been doing ever since.
Check out upcoming LionFish events here: https://www.lionfishsc.com/#eat-together
Slow Food: Liz Birnbaum
Unlike the other speakers, Liz is not a chef, but a culinary historian and event producer. She has tied her love of food history with her event experience to create a new project called The Curated Feast (thecuratedfeast.com). Through this project she links food with deeper cultural stories. Her food history research has been focused locally through the Santa Cruz Heritage Food Project, and globally through her experiences with Slow Food. By launching The Curated Feast in front of our eyes, she hopes to tell the generations of stories behind food through special meals where each ingredient is hand-selected to tell tantalizing stories of spice exploration, trade routes, and more.
Learn more about your food and follow her work here: https://thecuratedfeast.com
Kickin Chicken: Justin Williams
Justin Williams along with Candice Mendoza and her brother Daniel Mendoza started out as “the drug dealers of late night fried chicken.” In the beginning to get ahold of the goods, you needed to know a friend of a friend. They’ve come a long way.
When Justin arrived in Santa Cruz from L.A., it was a challenging place for new, young chefs to act out their dreams. He knew he had to get creative and do something truly different. Inspired by deep-fried turkey legs in an episode of Game of Thrones and banking on college students’ addiction to late night fried food, Justin and his partners started cooking up flash-fried chicken, cornbread waffles, and mac ‘n cheese to share with the hungry night owls. Word soon spread, and you can now get Kickin Chicken delivered to your door or at venues like the Food Lounge and Midtown Cafe.
Get your late-night chicken fix Tuesday – Friday, 10pm-2am: https://www.orderstart.com/kickinchicken
Ty’s Eatery: Ty Pearce
Ty grew up around the restaurant business. His family owns the Sunrise Bistro in Walnut Creek and his grandmother owned one of the first catering companies in California. The Sunrise Bistro always felt like home to Ty and to many of its patrons as well. He hopes to provide something similar for Santa Cruz residents: a safe place to go for simple food straight from the farm. Running a pop-up is only temporary until Ty can find the right place to open his own brick & mortar restaurant. “I want to be a part of the community here in Santa Cruz. I want a stable place where people can come twice a day and be served fresh, simple food.”
For now, find his simple, tasty brunches and dinners at the Food Lounge: https://www.facebook.com/Tyseatery
Mutari Chocolate: Matthew Armstrong
90% of chocolate’s history is in sipping form, but it’s become hard to find. Matthew and his brother Adam had a niche to fill, and lucky forus, they filled it here in Santa Cruz. Their beans are of the highest quality, giving the chocolate complex, nuanced flavors similar to a fine wine. They have a direct relationship with the farmers and buy the beans raw so they can roast them to perfection. Their chocolate is thick and creamy and when the first sip hits your palate, you realize you’ve been duped your whole life into thinking powdered hot cocoa was actually chocolate.
Taste unique flavors like Himalayan Pink Sea Salt and Pumpkin Spice at their shop next to the Food Lounge on Center Street: https://mutarichocolate.com/mutari-chocolate-house-and-factory/
Back Porch: Austin Kay
Veterans of the Santa Cruz Pop-up scene, Back Porch has used locally sourced ingredients to create mouth-watering tacos, pot pies, and sliders (among other things) since 2012. Austin and his wife Alicia specialize in street food at the farmers’ market, as well as pop-up dining experiences in their own backyard. “It’s the personal interaction with each individual that is the most awesome thing about these pop-up dinners,” says Austin. By the end of August, Back Porch is getting its own 16-foot trailer, making them a semi-permanent fixture in Soquel Village five days a week.
Track them down here: https://backporchsc.com/index.asp
Ocean 2 Table: Charles Lamberg
Living right by the ocean, it’s surprisingly difficult to come by fresh seafood caught using sustainable practices. Ocean 2 Table’s founders,Charles Lambert and Ian Cole, are trying to change that by offering fresh fish right off the boat using a CSA format. Charles hopes that Santa Cruz can be an example community for others in terms of sustai
nable fisheries and promoting local food.
Get your fresh fish here: https://www.getocean2table.com/
Mortal Dumpling: Noah Kopito
Noah got into the food business because he likes a challenge. Becoming the king of dim sum in Santa Cruz was never his goal. “I thought, If I’m going to try cooking, I might as well try something that no one else is doing,” Noah explains. It helps that he can make a mean mochi, ginger pork bao, and killer dumplings, and he’s not afraid to experiment, mixing the flavors of different cultures. His curry chicken bao with a flaky biscuit in place of the steamed rice bun is a perfect example.
Check out our interview with Noah to learn more about the dude dominating the Santa Cruz dim sum scene: https://www.eventsantacruz.com/an-interview-with-noah-kopito/
So you never miss a chance to eat his dumplings, follow him here: https://mortaldumpling.com/
Thanks to everyone who attended this event and sorry to those who couldn’t make it! Get tickets to our next event on Thursday, July 23rd: Pleasure Point Night at the Santa Cruz Boardroom.
A special thanks to our sponsors that make our events possible:
MainstreamReal Estate Group, Nextspace, Santa Cruz Economic Development, Launch brigade, JBQAV Quality Pro Audio, ip Society, and Sandbar Solar & Electric