Bon Appétit Cooks Up Permanent-Looking Pop-Up

With the help of the Rockwell Group and Restaurant Associates, Bon Appétit transformed the former Hard Rock Cafe into a temporary restaurant.

By Anna Sekula November 5, 2007, 1:50 PM EST

Meshing its experience in restaurant and theatrical design, the Rockwell Group created the not-so-temporary look of Bon Appétit's Supper Club and Cafe. The design of the promotion's main room was a stylish take on a modern cafe.

Photo: Alison Whittington for BizBash

Pop-up promotions are great studies in experiential marketing, and while we've seen some dazzling ones (Target's Hampton store, the launch of Gillette's Venus Vibrance, and Illy's cafe among them), few have looked less temporary than Bon Appétit's Supper Club and Café. Open to the public for a two-week stretch (from Tuesday, October 25, to Friday, November 2), the eatery hosted chef demos and book signings during the day and became a site for private events (such as the post-screening dinner for Kite Runner and designer Douglas Hannant's 10th anniversary party) at night. Terri Smith, the magazine's executive director of creative services, headed up the planning team, which enlisted the help of the Rockwell Group and Restaurant Associates, among others.

“Every magazine wants to bring its pages to life, and we thought this would be a unique way [for Bon Appétit] to do so. It was [also] about bringing out-of-town chefs in town, and people without restaurants, like Giada De Laurentiis, to the public,“ Smith said of the concept. “The supper-club idea really embodies Bon Appétit's accessibility and has an up-close-and-personal element to it.” It also provided an opportunity for the magazine's advertisers to interact with consumers.

Held in the former Hard Rock Cafe on 57th Street and based on what the magazine did at the Sundance festival earlier this year, the supper club and café consisted of several areas: a front café area with sandwiches, salads, and soups; a main dining room; and a lounge space upstairs. Designed by the Rockwell Group, the main dining room was decked in shades of blue and purple, with colored lighting and white high-top tables and stools. Overhead was what looked like a deconstructed chandelier made from thin reflective panels strung on fishing line; white bungee cords, reaching from the ceiling to the floor, enclosed the space.

In the casual café at the front, customers could buy packaged salads, sandwiches, soups, and desserts created by chefs such as Michel Richard (of Citronelle in Washington, D.C.), Will Goldfarb, Cat Cora, and Govind Armstrong (of Los Angeles's Table 8) as well as books from the celebrity chefs. Upstairs, sponsors like Haagen-Daz served nibbles to guests from small stations set up around the perimeter. Restaurant Associates provided staffing, bringing in kitchen support, servers, bartenders, and cashiers.

Finding and building the ideal place for the promotion was a challenging task, and after months of searching (with the aid of a real estate broker), Smith and her team chose the former Hard Rock Cafe. “We needed something that was set up as a restaurant but could function as an event space,” Smith explained. A crew of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and general contractors then took the abandoned, empty venue and brought it up to code—which meant getting permits from the city, setting up a fire protection system, and being inspected by various agencies, including the fire department and ConEd. With a commercial-grade kitchen (Restaurant Associates provided some help), the pop-up essentially became a real restaurant, without the need to acquire a permanent liquor license or make arrangements with food purveyors.

Getting chefs to participate wasn't as difficult a task. Working in tandem with the magazine's editors, the events team put together a hit list of chefs and started assembling the schedule based on who was available.

The promotion drew between 600 and 800 people a day, and when we asked Smith if there are plans to return next year or to take the concept to other cities, she said, “We are already talking about it. Nothing is definite, but I don't think this is the last you'll see of the Bon Appétit supper club. We'll definitely be back at Sundance in January.”

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