The pop-up restaurant concept is nothing new to Columbus. You may have paid a visit to Little Eater’s pop-up at The Hills Market Downtown this past fall. Chances are you have heard about Hot Chicken Takeover’s pop-up success in Olde Towne East. Pop-ups allow food entrepreneurs to grow their business without having to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to open their own brick and mortar establishment. It allows them to work out the kinks, develop menu concepts, and create buzz affordably. The only worry…paying the rent on time.
Blu Olive Food Truck owner Steve Carmean lucked into his ideal pop-up spot this past November at Hey Hey Bar & Grill, a Merion & German Village staple. All it took was an opportunistically timed conversation between his kitchen manager, Alexander “The Beast” Martin, and Hey Hey owner Sue Gall.
“Alex was sitting at the bar and asked about about their kitchen,” Carmean informs. “As it turns out, their previous tenant had just moved out and they were looking for someone that could excite regulars, as well as attract new customers with their food. Sue had heard good things about us and the rest was history. We signed a lease agreement within weeks of that conversation.”
Blu Olive’s pop-up is not typical of others that come and go in a matter of months. By committing to a yearlong lease, Carmean is reinventing the way pop-ups operate, in hopes of introducing the Blu Olive brand to a new community. It will also keep him out of the cold for the first time since Blu Olive’s inception, where he typically would see winter food truck sales drop-off markedly.
“We went out our first two winters and this year, I told myself I would never do it again,” Carmean gripes. “The cold is unbelievable…you’re standing in front of a huge window while your truck vent continues to pull cold air in, blasting you in the face. If that doesn’t bother you, losing all the feeling in your feet an hour into service will.”
The fear of frostbite coupled with the fact that customers simply aren’t willing to wait in the frigid conditions convinced Carmean he had to change the way Blu Olive operates throughout the winter. Operating in a warm kitchen that wasn’t on wheels was the goal for the winter, making Hey Hey a quintessential fit.
Escaping the cold was the primary goal but with the additional space provided, Blu Olive’s kitchen is now filled with new ingredients, granting Carmean and Martin the flexibility to play with food truck favorites, while creating brand new dishes.
“When people come to Hey Hey, they’re sitting down having a beer and enjoying themselves,” Carmean notes. They’re not standing in line, trying to run back to work. That allows us more time to prep weekly specials, which we could never pull off on the truck.”
Carmean has made sure to keep certain food truck favorites the same. The popular Bison Burger, topped with grilled onions, cheddar & blue cheese, and served with OH! Chips, has seen little change and continues to be a best seller amongst Hey Hey faithful. However, the additional space and prep time has led to revived dishes such as the trendy grilled salmon sandwich which is now a salmon club baked on focaccia, locally sourced from Matija Breads. The pop-up approach has given Blu Olive the chance to reinvent itself, allowing Carmean and Martin’s culinary excellence to shine.
“Everything is easier when your kitchen is not moving around on wheels, Carmean says. “We have more room…we don’t have to worry about running out of water or dodging equipment falling off of shelves. The hardest part has been just simply letting people know we are here. Once we get our food in front of new customers, they’re back the next week trying something new.”
Blu Olive serves 5 to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, and 5 to 11 p.m. on weekend nights at Hey Hey Bar & Grill, located at 361 E. Whittier Street, German Village. You can reach them by phone at 614-445-9512. You can find the Blu Olive Food Truck every Wednesday night from 4 to 8 pm at the Bexley Natural Market, located at 508 N. Cassady Avenue, Bexley, Ohio. You can find more information about Blu Olive at www.bluolivefoodtruck.com and www.facebook.com/bluolive
This story was published in the January version of the The Metropreneur.