Want to see the latest in pop-up restaurants? You’ll find it in San Francisco, where they’re opening up inside shipping containers retrofitted with glass doors and roll-up windows.
Proxy Project debuted this summer. A coffee roaster, and an ice cream shop have already opened, and a German restaurant and beer garden will debut this fall.
Customers order at the businesses through a window and eat in a communal open-air space. Each 160-square-foot container (measuring eight feet by 20 feet) is equipped with plumbing and electricity. There is an option to employ a second shipping container as a back-of-house.
“People are drawn to the shipping containers,” says Eileen Hassi, owner of Ritual Coffee Roasters, which is one of the tenants. “The bright colors and lights in an otherwise sparse lot bring people in for a closer look. They are excited by the idea of getting a beautifully crafted espresso drink or individually brewed coffee from this box that looks like it was just dropped there, for them.”
Envelope Architecture + Design, an architecture firm in nearby Oakland, California, came up with the idea for Proxy Project. It built it on an empty lot that a freeway once cut through.
“After each tenant’s five-year land lease expires, the unit is theirs to keep and can be relocated anywhere they like—a plus for first-time restaurateurs who lack enough start-up funds but still want to attract a customer base,” says Douglas Burnham, the firm’s principal and founder. “It’s an investment that doesn’t go away.”
In May, Smitten Ice Cream, which uses liquid nitrogen to make seasonal, farmers market-inspired flavors like Lemon Verbena or Olive Oil with Lavender Shortbread, opened in Proxy, the company’s first and only location.
An anticipated fall opening date—just in time for Oktoberfest—will introduce Suppenküche’s Biergarten. Already a German restaurant in the Hayes Valley part of San Francisco, it’s an addition that Suppenküche’s owners were seeking for a long time, but just hadn’t found the right spot.
To make the beer garden more attractive, Suppenküche’s owners have planted trees to create a park-like setting.
Thisis something owner Aaron Hulme has been hoping for.
“We've been looking to do a project like this for years," he says. He’d originally
looked into mobile units, he adds, but the container “gives us more outdoor seating and gives us flexibility as we wanted to move things seasonally, depending on what our staffing needs are.
The containers are also considerably cheaper than the $65,000 to $85,000 that it costs for a food cart, and there are lots of rules about where you can park them. “We found [the carts] way too prohibitive for something like a bar and certainly not what you'd find in Germany,” Hulme says.
A scheme like Proxy Project gives restaurants the ability to hop onto food trends while they’re hot, he points out, then easily move on to the next trend. “It would be nice if [a restaurant] could be forever but it’s part of the charm that it's not."
Space still remains at the project site, and until all of the units are filled, food trucks arrive at the project site daily. Not only do these food trucks invite more people, it further promotes the idea of go-anywhere food concepts. “The larger idea is to bring changing content to this part of the city,” says Burnham.
By Kristine Hansen