Even for established restaurateurs, opening a pop-up presents distinct challenges. When Epicurean Group’s August Cardona and Joe Campanale opened Alta Linea, their ode to outdoor Italian dining at Manhattan’s High Line Hotel, they quickly discovered they’d have to attract an audience and get the whole thing running smoothly with no practice period. Here, the duo shares the lessons they’ve learned from opening their first pop-up.
1. Search out a spot with potential. “Finding space in New York isn’t too difficult for a pop-up,” says Cardona. “There are plenty of landlords that ‘get it’ and see the value.” What’s tricky is finding a venue that attracts sufficient foot traffic and has the potential to transform into a special place. When Cardona and Campanale found the open courtyard that would become Alta Linea, they knew this was the right place to create a pop-up dedicated to alfresco dining.
2. Give it a compelling theme. “In Italy, people enjoy aperitivos at pedestrian-only piazzas,” says Campanale. “The courtyard at the High Line Hotel is the closest thing I’ve seen to that in New York. It’s set back from the street, so you’re separated from traffic, and the beautiful church seminary in the background really adds to that Italian feeling. This pop-up is really about creating a mood of carefree, outdoor drinking—as seen frequently in Italy.”
3. Develop a signature offering. At Alta Linea, the frozen negroni developed a serious following. Campanale credits the fact that it was perfectly suited to both the concept and the season.
4. Don’t be afraid to experiment. “We took huge risks with our beverage program,” says Campanale. “Our menu includes a dozen vermouths and frozen drinks, which I’d never worked with before. If these ideas are well-received, we can explore them further elsewhere. And if they don’t work out, it’s not the end of the world.”
5. Don’t expect time to iron out kinks. “When we open a long-term restaurant, we give ourselves one to two quarters of operations to learn how the space flows, how the public reacts to the offerings,” says Cardona. “With Alta Linea, the restaurant will be closed before this ‘test’ period has even ended!”