Popups: The Temporary Restaurant Trend Continues

Like food trucks, Spanish restaurants and crop tops, the city is home to the growing popup trend.

In just the last four days, I’ve been to two popup events.

Popups can be a number of things, including:

– a chef/caterer/food truck/small food business wants to try out new dishes without the commitment of a restaurant
- a chef/caterer/food truck/small food business is opening a restaurant, but wants to preview menu ideas, get early buzz, etc.

Popups usually happen in a booked-out event space, warehouse or restaurant that’s closed for the night and are a one or two-night only affair. Tickets are sold to the public, with a small number set aside for media to cover the event. 

Here is an example of two recent events I attended to give you an idea of how different they can be (check out our photos from the events on our Instagram and Twitter):

On Saturday night I was the exclusive media at Borealia’s popup six-course dinner. The new restaurant is coming to Ossington in October, so owners (and husband and wife) Evelyn Wu Morris and Chef Wayne Michael Morris decided to preview some dishes at the small, yet charming Parkdale bar, The Yukon.  

The Morris’s sold tickets to their one night affair via posters posted in The Yukon’s window and through social media. The event sold out in just a few hours. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that their concept isn’t a current trend in the city, and instead pays homage to our ancestors and country with recipes and dishes from the late 1800s and early 1900s (They even chose to hold the event on Food Canada Day).

A heady order to fill, but Chef Morris’ food more than held up. Dishes rarely encountered – lobster in savoury jelly (c. 1845), braised whelk served in its delicate shell (when's the last time you saw whelk on a menu?) – were enchanting, and the cozy atmosphere was magical. I am certain their restaurant will be much the same.


Last night, I attended opening night of Toben Food by Design’s new catering division’s popup, Twisted. Launched this summer, they can be found at food festivals throughout the city.

This catering and event management company, headed by Chef Toben Kochman, did a hotel pan full of food for LeBron James and Drake at OVO this past weekend (as shared on Instagram), so expectations were high. I mean, if Drizzy started from the bottom, then this must be the top, right?

Held at the popular event space 2nd Floor Events on King West (you’ll remember it from Taste of Toronto), the tables were beautifully dressed in modern wares such as Marimekko paper napkins and cheeky placemats, covered in handdrawn outlines of where the glass, plate and cutlery should be places.

The night began with signature cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and moved into a four-course tasting menu inspired by “global street-style fare,” and"a twist on classic fine dining by bringing the best from the reaches of world; Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, Jamaica, South America, and Europe.” 

An outstinding amuse of Jerk Seared Ahi Tuna and second course of crowd-pleasing Lime Leaf-Sesame Fried Chicken with lobster mash, khao soy curry and bacon-apple-heirloom beet slaw impressed,  but other courses failed to live up to their exotic flavour profiles. If more of the what was showcased in the fish and poutry dishes is applied, Kochman is onto something good.

And the atmosphere of the event was effervescent - like that of a large dinner party, with the giddy laughter of new friends being made, and the feeling of being in on something exclusive.

Columnist Matt Duckor wrote in Bon Appetit that popups should vanish into ether.  I disagree. Because popups offer something a restaurant can’t: a memorable meal (in a variety of ways), a single chance to experience something fleeting and unique, and the possibility – and often hope - that it translates into something more permanent.