Sam Hansen's résumé is pretty legit when it comes to creating buzz-worthy pop-up events.
His current pop-up is a tribute to the rapper Biggie Smalls.
The so called, Big Poppa’s Pop-up Cafe opens Friday (to coincide with the anniversary of the rapper's death) at Take 3 Burgers in downtown Fresno. The restaurant is open for a reservation-only breakfast that costs $50 and includes a commemorative T-shirt and an evening tribute concert and art show with local artists doing Biggie covers along with the food and music and art.
Here, Hansen explains what makes a good pop-up event.
Find a following
The best pop-ups follow a theme. That theme can be fairly specific (a fictional burger joint from an off-the-wall Eddie Murphy movie, let's say), but it should be something people are passionate about. Hansen won't touch a theme unless it's something he's passionate about, too. So, when people suggest events to him, a Johnny Cash pop-up is one that's come up before, he takes a pass if he doesn't share the vision.
It's an idea that would probably do well, Hansen says, but "I couldn’t do it, because I don’t know anything about Johnny Cash."
Make it urgent
"It’s hard to get people to leave their houses any more," Hansen says.
Successful pop-ups have to play on the FOBLO factor (fear of being left out). So, even if you're playing on tradition (Hansen has celebrated Biggie's death on his own for close to a decade), it needs to come off like a special event, something that won't happen again.
At least, not until next year.
Make it an immersive experience
What’s the difference between eating at a pop-up and an Applebee's? It's the experience, Hansen says.
And that experience has to be total. So that means an attention to details. For the Big Poppa's cafe, that means opening at 5:46 in the morning and serving steak-and-cheese eggs.
"We try to turn every Biggie lyric into an experience," he says.
"We didn’t just make a cheeseburger and call it a biggie cheeseburger."
Instead they did a Honey Play Me Close, Butter Played Toast burger, which comes on Texas toast with chipotle honey butter, cheese and bacon. There's also From the Beretta Chetta burger that has a cheddar cheese stuffed patty.
Biggie fans no doubt will dig all the references.
If the experience is good enough, the food can almost be secondary. People don't go to the Hard Rock Cafe (or Planet Hollywood or Hooters even) for the food. It's the ambiance.
Themed music and art can transform a space and create a sense of total immersion, especially when it's created specifically for a particular event, Hansen says. He incorporates both into all of his pop-ups. MC Wicks will be on hand Friday night to do his "Ten Snack Commandments." It's a play on Biggie's "Ten Crack Commandments."
The Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco is an example of an immersive pop-up done really well, Hansen says.
"The scale is impressive," he says. "I'd like to get to that point."
Only he'd do it with tacos, obviously.
"If someone is out there who wants to invest in a taco museum, give me a call," he says.
"It'll be the coolest thing you've ever seen."