By Amanda Harvey
Pop-up dining, the practice of eating in temporary restaurants set in unique or mobile spaces, is experiencing an 82 percent increase in popularity, according to a recent study done by Eventbrite. Arizona is ahead of the trend, with several pop-up dining experiences available throughout the Grand Canyon state, from Prescott to Tucson and everywhere in between. Find out more about the inspiration behind three local pop-up dining companies in our roundup.
Northern – SENSES, Prescott
The backbone of the SENSES team is comprised of Executive Chef John Panza and Pastry Chef Cassandra Hankison. “We were both working at a private golf course and wanted the opportunity to showcase Chef John’s food to a larger group of Prescott’s population, so we decided to venture off on our own. We knew pop-up dining was a fast growing food trend, and Prescott has so many unique places to show off – it seemed like a no brainer,” said Hankison of how SENSES was created.
John and Cassandra love bringing people together to experience great food in unique locations. Pop-up events are also a great way to meet people of a similar mindset. “Everyone is there for the same reason: have great food and meet new people,” said SENSES customer and Prescott resident Shelley Moran. When she and her husband recently moved from California, she found SENSES’ pop-up dinners a great way to meet local people with similar interests. “It’s always different. It’s fun not knowing what the menu is going to be,” she continued. “I like the atmosphere. I think John and Cassandra are warm and inviting – they make you feel like they’re inviting you into their home. That makes it unique.”
SENSES recently purchased the restaurant BiGA in Prescott, changing the name to BiGA by SENSES. Though they are now the proud owners of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, they still plan to host at least one pop-up event per month. They also created Farm-to-Fork Family Suppers, which will take place the last Sunday of the month at the restaurant. “We shop at the Prescott Farmers Market the day before to offer our guests fresh and locally sourced produce. Dinner is typically three courses served family style on big platters and everyone sits around large tables and passes the food around. They are a ton of fun and are still a unique way of dining,” Hankison explained. On shopping locally, Hankison said: “We know what it’s like to be a small fish in a big pond, and we like to support local because we know it makes a difference. Why not support the town where you live by supporting the businesses within?”
To learn more about SENSES, visit squareup.com/store/senses.
Central – Cloth & Flame, Phoenix
Cloth & Flame started as a hot air balloon company that morphed into an unforgettable outdoor dining experience. Owners Matt Cooley and Olivia Laux share a passion for the beauty of the outdoors. “We run an adventure balloon ride outfit [called Float] and have the opportunity to fly over (and land in) the most beautiful desert areas that, for many, would be totally off the map. We wanted to share some of these things that we love the most – wild spaces, exploration, big alfresco dinners, and community collaborations – with more people,” said Cooley. Thus, Cloth & Flame was born.
“When you attend a pop-up of any kind,” said Cooley, “you’re experiencing something that is going to happen once, in one place, and you’re sharing it with everyone present. Our first open-reservation dinner was December 31, 2016, and the response since has been staggering.” Cooley and Laux work with local chefs to create a unique and picturesque dining experience in the Arizona desert. “I love seeing the extraordinary reactions from our guests,” said Cooley. “Ours behaves as much as a tour as it does a dining experience. The attendees don’t know what’s next, but it’s clear that they’re thrilled by what might be next. The whole thing is a process of discovery.”
In addition to the several pop-up events they’ve hosted in the deserts of the Phoenix metropolitan area, Cloth & Flame also offers curated picnic delivery to those who want a surprise on the trail. The team will also be traveling to other areas in the Southwest this summer to escape the heat – Northern Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon and Alaska.
To learn more about Cloth & Flame, visit clothandflame.com.
Southern – Pop-Up Tucson, Tucson
Riley Chandler started his culinary career at age 17, when he became an intern at Janos Wilder’s restaurant in Tucson. Chandler was inspired by his Italian grandmother and her delicious homemade cooking. “Learning what she knew inspired me to want to work in a real kitchen,” said Chandler. He attended culinary school at Pima College and received a degree at age 19. Chandler began his foray into pop-up dining one year ago with the creation of Pop-Up Tucson.
His favorite thing about pop-up dining, said Chandler, is “it’s basically a fresh way to literally dine outside the box. All my locations are unique and places you wouldn’t normally dine: rooftops, canyons, lofts, historic rooms. And you get a chance to eat food that you otherwise would never experience.”
One of his favorite things is pairing up with other local chefs. “Collaboration is huge,” stated Chandler. “Combining talented chefs for special events is always a hit because you never know what fabulous new experience you are going to get from any two great chefs working together.”
Chandler is passionate about local ingredients and the Tucson food scene. “Seasonal ingredients from the region taste the best, hands down. Working with farmers is awesome because it really creates a connection with the food and guests can learn about where their food comes from,” he said. Chandler is planning on spending the summer rebranding his pop-up dining concept with his friend and co-chef Kyle Nottingham and their front-of-house manager Ryan Moore. He has plans to take the concept statewide and to increase the frequency of their pop-up events.
To learn more about Pop Up Tucson, visit rileychandlerpc.com/pop-up-tucson.
SENSES photo by Brooke Stevens-Patrick of Brooke Photography. Cloth & Flame photo by Kate Nelle Photography. Pop-Up Tucson photo by Monica Sherpa.
Find more restaurant articles at greenlivingaz.com/restaurants.