Pop-ups and Food Trucks are Here to Stay at York
Traveling businesses have kept the food scene vibrant during the pandemic and beyond
Published in July, 2021
Tommy York, founder and co-owner of artisanal market and deli, YORK, was overwhelmed by the support his business received from the community this past year. "People were calling morning, noon, and night for carry-out food, and we'd run it out to them. People bought gift cards. They said, 'I never intend to use this, but we want to keep you in business.' As frightening and stressful as it was, it was also amazing to see so much support from the community. I knew we were going to get the support we needed to keep going."
In addition to locally sourced deli meats, cheeses, and wines, YORK features food trucks and "pop-up" restaurants native to Washtenaw County, which have become increasingly popular as socially distanced, open-air ways to eat out with less risk of spreading Covid-19. Both food trucks and pop-ups are mobile eateries, but pop-ups appear and disappear at the owner's discretion, whereas food trucks are physical spaces requiring inspection, upkeep, and fees. During the past year, YORK has rotated through various local pop-ups and food trucks in their yard space to provide customers with a diverse collection of culinary options.
The Michigan hospitality business, which encompasses restaurants, bars, and hotels is the second-largest private employer in the state. According to data found in Entry Point's Covid-19 Business Impact Report, an Ann Arbor-based research non-profit, the hospitality industry accounts for fourteen percent of Washtenaw County's businesses. Data collected by the University of Michigan's Quantitative Economics' "2020 Washtenaw County Economic Outlook" shows a 16.9 percent decrease in employment in the hospitality industry in 2020. With Covid safety restrictions, capacity limits, and mandated restaurant closures, the industry has relied heavily on takeout orders throughout the pandemic.
As a response to this, businesses had to get creative in order to stay afloat. YORK utilized their yard space playing host to DJs, pop-ups, food trucks, and local art vendors. During the colder months, they continued hosting socially distanced
events, adding heaters and fire pits. It became such a hit that customers wanted the cozy outdoor set-up during regular store hours. York chuckled,
"People would come in around 11:00 am with a laptop asking for a fire to keep warm by while they worked remotely in the snow. One of the silver-linings is that people realized that the snow isn't that bad. And with people working from home, they were able to enjoy the winter weather. We even had people ski up to the store!"
Lucha Puerco, a pop-up started by John Moors in his driveway, had their debut at YORK. Moors started selling hot sauce as a pastime after deciding to leave his job with BestBuy to homeschool his daughter during the pandemic. Lucha Puerco hot sauce started gaining popularity and Moors became more experimental with his cooking, creating different varieties of tacos and burritos. Moors knew it was time to leave his driveway and become a pop-up when his food caused a traffic jam in his Ypsilanti neighborhood. Since then, Moors has been a regular at venues such as YORK, Cultivate, and Grotto appearing several times a month. Moors describes his new line of work as "the traveling show".
Lucha Puerco isn't a phenomenon; pop-ups keep popping up around Ann Arbor. Misfit Biscuit is a collaborative group of food businesses including Side Biscuit, Lucha Puerco, Basil Babe, Juicy Oistre, and Chef. G. Haluthai Inhmathong of Basil Babe says, "We are like a cute little family! I remember this guy came to pick up some of my frozen dumplings from my driveway. And he's like, 'Hey, I do tacos from my driveway too, and my friend does chicken wings from his!' I was like, 'weird, we all do food from our driveways.' But now we are like family. We're not overstepping boundaries at all because we're making completely different things. Side Biscuit just graduated from the driveway and opened up a restaurant, but he still collabs and features other pop-ups in his store. He just did a Lucha Puerco sauce the other week."
Gaining traction over the past few years, the food truck scene has become a staple of summer appearing at art fairs, festivals, and farmer's markets. In the last year, more food trucks have braved the cold in order to meet the demand for socially distanced dining. Asian street food truck Bao Boys are at YORK five days a week. International cuisine is something of a food truck specialty, with Jamaican Spice, Fork in Nigeria, and Juicy Oistre also spicing up the YORK Yard.
This unconventional way of dining and collaboration amongst chefs is here to stay, York says. "We saw that the old business model of 'I win, you lose' is not the greatest thing to follow. I don't know if I've ever been to a town that has too many cool shops or restaurants. We've come to a place where we've realized that there's room for everyone. I think we've found ourselves connecting with others in a way that was becoming old-timey. We've found community again during this past year."
[Originally published in July, 2021.]
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