Temporary pop-ups in Northwest Arkansas boost restaurant sales

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 4,095 views 

Jonathan Key, beverage and bar manager for The Preacher's Son and Undercroft in Bentonville, said the success of previous temporary, or pop-up, events led the cocktail bar to host a new one. Its first pop-up was in 2019 with Christmas-themed Miracle on 2nd Street.

Jonathan Key, beverage and bar manager for Bentonville restaurant The Preacher’s Son and Undercroft — the intimate bar and lounge located in the restaurant’s basement — said the owners recently converted the cocktail bar into tropical-themed The Oasis at Undercroft. The temporary (pop-up) event started on March 19 and will run through April 30.

Undercroft’s first pop-up was in 2019 with Christmas-themed Miracle on 2nd Street. Key said New York City-based Miracle selected Undercroft to host the pop-up, which returned to the bar this past holiday season. Miracle started the pop-up concept in 2014 and expanded to four locations in 2015 and internationally in 2016.

According to the National Restaurant Association, in 2019, temporary pop-up restaurants comprised the No. 2 trend for restaurant concepts, behind chef-driven fast-casual concepts. In Northwest Arkansas, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the timing for the pop-ups and provided an opportunity to host them. And they have been successful.

The success of the Miracle pop-up at Undercroft led staff to consider other pop-ups and develop The Oasis at Undercroft.

“We honed in on that tropical, island-style theme and paying homage to the original Tiki movement back in the 1940s and ’50s,” Key said. “The plan before was we were hoping to do it in 2020, but we all know what happened then. Unfortunately, we had to push it back a year, and we’re super excited to be able to bring this to you.”

Key was unsure what to expect in hosting Miracle this past holiday season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but reservations were strong.

“We’re following suit with Oasis,” Key said. “The plan is to have a great time and bring that getaway, especially after the year that we all had, and make it seem like you’re going into another world or area of the world without leaving Bentonville.”

Key and other Undercroft bartenders created the cocktail menu and program for the pop-up. Roxy Erickson, the curator for the Miracle pop-ups, completed the decor and design work.

“We take Undercroft down to the bare bones and completely transform the entire bar,” Key said. “Normally, the Undercroft is considered like a speakeasy, dark basement lounge vibe. What’s nice about that is that you can easily transform the entire space by changing the entire decor and changing the layout. There is thatching all over where you feel like you’re in a hut — a lot of different fishnets and buoys and fish. It transposes the entire space to make it feel like you’re in a different area.”

Key strongly recommended making reservations to attend the pop-up.

“We learned with our past pop-ups that reservations are a great way to make sure every guest that comes in here has a full experience, and they have a set table and a set time for that table,” Key said. “That way, they can take in the whole space and be guaranteed a spot.”

The bar will offer the new cocktail menu along with its beer and wine menu. The bar’s classic cocktails will be available, too.

The next pop-up is in the works, and staff has pitched several ideas, Key said. Customers can expect another pop-up within six months after this one.

Undercroft has eight bartenders, and including The Preacher’s Son staff, there are 30-40 employees. The redesigned layout at Undercroft has the capacity for about 55-60 customers. COVID precautions include checkerboard seating and table spacing, Key said. Also, masks are required, and hand sanitizer is available. Key noted reservations help with rotating customers in and out and that tables are cleaned between each reservation.

Recently, 28 Springs in downtown Siloam Springs launched the pop-up restaurant Roost.

Assistant manager Chris Strobl said amid the pandemic, 28 Springs’ business had decreased, and even before, it was down. He said the restaurant wanted to reach a broader audience than in the past and had struggled to reach the blue-collar crowd.

Strobl said COVID accelerated the timeline to launch the pop-up and was an opportunity to try it. With Roost, it’s more approachable, with nothing fancy on the menu, such as aioli or other items one might see in a fine-dining restaurant, he noted.

And the pop-up has been a success. The number of weeknight customers has more than doubled to over 80 people. The restaurant had been serving about that amount on the weekends. It’s risen to 160-200 people on Fridays and Saturdays, he said.

General manager Brandon Bralley said the restaurant spent a few months working on its first pop-up before launching the concept in mid-February. It changed some decor, servers’ uniforms and the menu, Strobl said.

“This pop-up is going to continue to be lasting throughout our time open,” Bralley said. “We’ll eventually be called Roost at 28 Springs once we’ve decided to roll out this 28 Springs menu, which that menu is going to be completely different than it was before. It’s going to be more fine dining, higher end.”

It’s expected to include steak, seafood and poultry options and will be developed for customers who come for special occasions, Bralley said. The restaurant doesn’t plan to host another pop-up soon, but he noted it might look to add seasonal menus.

“This should drive as much business as we’ve been aiming for,” said Bralley, adding that sales have nearly doubled. “We’re focusing on what best reaches the community and the surrounding areas at the moment. We’re figuring this out as much as everyone else.”

In mid-February, the restaurant stopped serving the 28 Springs menu, and customers have been ordering exclusively from the Roost menu. A 28 Springs menu is expected to return, but a timeline has yet to be determined.

Chef Kurt Plankenhorn said the restaurant would need time to develop the new menu and be approved before 28 Springs returns. When it does, both Roost and 28 Springs menus will be offered. Customers of the two will be served from one kitchen, Bralley said.

The restaurant has about 25 employees and a capacity of 140 customers. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

This past fall, Experience Fayetteville started to host pop-up lounges exclusively within the city of Fayetteville’s Outdoor Refreshment Area as an extension to bars and restaurant dining rooms and patios that were limited in capacity because of the pandemic. The city’s Outdoor Refreshment Area, established in July and recently extended

Hazel Hernandez

through April 2024, allows people to purchase and drink an alcoholic beverage outside the restaurant. The pop-up lounges offer restaurant customers an outdoor space to consume their takeout and to-go drinks. Also, people can enjoy live music and fresh air while practicing social distancing and safety protocols, said Hazel Hernandez, vice president of marketing and communications for Experience Fayetteville.

“The pop-up lounges were aimed at helping support bars and restaurants as well as local musicians,” Hernandez said. “Early in the pandemic, restaurants were at limited capacity, and not everyone had ample patio seating. That was a way for us to expand a restaurant’s capacity so the community could support our local bars and restaurants and experience downtown Fayetteville in a safe, open-air environment.”

Experience Fayetteville has hosted three pop-ups, and they have had a good turnout, Hernandez said.

“Most importantly, all have helped support Fayetteville businesses, which makes them successful to us,” she added. “There is always a learning curve when trying something new, and it is important to keep trying new things and learning from the successes.”

The next pop-up lounge has been set for 5 to 10 p.m. April 2 and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 3 at Dickson Street and West Avenue.

“We’ll have live music both days, and the sun should be shining for a memorable springtime event in Fayetteville,” she said.