For James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Abe Conlon, a three-month pop-up restaurant in another city is a way to test a new market as well as the effects of his absence from his Chicago flagship.
Fat Rice in Chicago has been serving Portuguese-Chinese fusion food since December 2012. Through October, Conlon’s inventive and award-winning dishes can be found at Chefs Club in New York City, the site of constant rotating pop-ups.
So why participate in something like this when there’s plenty to do holding down the fort at one spot? That in itself is one reason the experience is worth it, says Adrienne Lo, general manager and co-owner of Fat Rice.
“If we were to expand, this is the thought of being in two different spaces,” Lo says. “This is kind of a great test run for that.”
While there are no concrete plans to expand Fat Rice yet, it’s always good to test the waters. Meanwhile, New York City diners have an appetite for Conlon’s dishes, Lo says, and the exposure is a boon, too.
“We’re able to be in a completely different market, something completely different from Chicago,” she says. “To be able to put ourselves out there in front of new people, new clients … I think that has been a great opportunity for us already.”
Lo spoke with FSR shortly after the Fat Rice Chefs Club opening. The support from New York City fans was already impressive, Lo says.
Opening a new location in a city like New York would come with extreme costs, costs that Lo says wouldn’t be feasible—another reason why the short-term pop-up can be worth it. Logistics and design took up most of the project’s preparation time. Re-creating the Fat Rice vibe was important.
The biggest challenge for taking your existing menu items to a new city? Sourcing. Lo and Conlon had gotten used to sourcing exotic items from Chicago’s diverse farms, vendors, and grocery stores. Building those relationships in a new city was like starting over.
“We’re relatively spoiled here in Chicago and the Midwest with the amazing farms and accessibility and the relationships we have,” Lo says.
It’s too soon to say whether the adventure will pay off monetarily, Lo says, but the feedback alone has already been a highlight.
“It’s amazing to see how many people have been to the Chicago Fat Rice and wanted to see us in New York,” she says. “The amount of support we had when we first opened was really amazing.”