Back-To-School Pop Up: How to Plan a Pop Up in NYC

This past summer, I took a long-anticipated leap and accomplished something that I’ve dreamed about doing ever since moving to New York. After attending pastry school back in 2016, I knew that I wanted to open a pastry shop someday, more than anything. Moving to New York opened my eyes to the concept of branded pop ups (something that I really never experienced in Chicago). Pop ups serve as an intermediate step to the brick-and-mortar dream; they allow brands to get their name out there before committing to a more permanent establishment. It seems that there’s always a pop up happening in NYC, and I desperately wanted to be a part of that frenetic, creative energy.

My “back-to-school” pastry pop up concept came about as I was serving cake and cocktails to friends in my Bushwick apartment over a year ago. I had decided to buy some Capri Sun Wild Cherry as a cocktail mixer and paired the cocktails with a light vanilla cake topped with drifts of luscious cherry buttercream. As I took sips from my blush-colored concoction, I thought about how interesting it would be to explore the juice box theme further; a nostalgic staple from my grade school lunchbox days. My back-to-school theme emerged, and it quickly took over my every creative minute. When it comes to forming your pop up concept, follow your initial inspiration; it can come when you least expect it. In this post, I wanted to share a few notes about my planning process that might help those of you who want to put together an event of your own.

Assemble your paperwork – To start, make sure that you have a Certificate of Food Protection, or equivalent for your state/area, as well as small business insurance. If you intend to serve alcohol at your pop up, be sure that your venue has the correct alcohol handling license.

Find a venue – Finding a venue was the most difficult part of the pop up process for me. It’s known that New York restaurants look to collaborate with small food businesses during their off hours, but the New York rental rates were disheartening, to put it lightly. I suggest avoiding Manhattan entirely if you’re putting together your first event in the New York area. I lucked out when a friend in the industry recommended the lovely Cook Space Brooklyn, which happened to be right around the corner from my apartment. Their standard event rental rate is $250/hour. Their kitchen space is available for prep time rental as well for $50/hour. With an open kitchen and a beautiful Noguchi lamp overlooking a cozy dining area, the decision to go with Cook Space was an easy one. There are certainly other Brooklyn venues out there to consider; pick a space that pairs well with your concept.

Spread the word – Selling tickets ahead of time will allow you to best prepare by making the correct amount of your product (in my case, cake). Utilize boosted Instagram and Facebook posts to target individuals in your area with similar interests. Urge friends to spread the word on social media. Use every social opportunity to share your excitement about the event. That last part shouldn’t be hard, as your pop up will likely consume your thoughts as the event draws near.

Get sponsored – There are enough costs to putting together a pop up without factoring in recipe testing and food costs into the mix. It’s possible to obtain sponsors for your event, especially if you have a strong following on social media. It will never hurt you to reach out to brands for potential sponsorship. When you send out a sponsorship inquiry, be sure to share your social media engagement rate, a little bit about your brand and event goals, and how many people you expect will attend your pop up. Know how much product you will need for a successful pop up, and feel free to share that information as well. In exchange, offer to promote sponsor information on all of your promotional materials. I was lucky enough to collaborate with some brands that I love: Brins Jam & Marmalade, Kerrygold USA, and King Arthur Flour.

Develop your recipes – This was the most enjoyable part of pop up preparation for me. I love experimenting with flavor combinations, and if you’re a chef, it’s likely that you will be most engaged with this part of the process (and find that it doesn’t take too long). Inspired by Orange Tang, Hi-C Flashin’ Fruit Punch, and Grape Juicy Juice, I created three fruit-forward cake and cocktail pairings. I tested and finalized recipes over the span of a month.

Pay attention to detail – The small details matter! Creating an immersive space is just as important and creating your product. I collaborated with graphic designer Andy Chan to create two larger-than-life photo backdrops that looked like notebook paper with gel pen doodles. Other finishing touches included board games, a chalkboard menu, a hopscotch design taped onto the floor in the entryway, back-to-school name tags for each guest, and “permission slips” that served as event admission tickets.

Adjust expectations – It’s likely that your pop up won’t make a profit, but that’s not its purpose. Its purpose is to collect content and establish your brand as an entity capable of organizing and executing large-scale events. Utilize your pop up momentum in unexpected ways. Make connections with future clients and supportive brands. And, despite the amount of work you’ll put into it, don’t lose sight of having fun! Creating a pop up was truly one of the most valuable things I’ve done for myself and my pastry career. I’m so thankful for all of the support I received from my friends during the preparation process.

Feel free to comment with any questions you might have! And if you put together a pop up, I’d love to hear about it.

xx Hadley

Fashion Week’s Victorianna Cake

This past week I had the honor of participating in fashion week in an entirely new way: making an after-party cake for designer Anna Sui’s new VICTORIANNA collection launch. This season’s whimsical styles billowed like perfect buttercream and were as ethereal as poufs of drifting meringue. Sui’s designs were a nod to mid-20th-century fashion illustrator Lila de Nobili. Take a look at de Nobili’s illustrations, and you’ll understand their whimsical and gauzy allure.  Cupcakes shaped like roses and succulents were part of Sui’s mood board for this season, so my role in creating a pastry pairing built upon her already sugar-inspired collection.

Focusing on Sui’s affinity for purple in both her designs and branding, I composed a watercolor two-tiered cake with three layers per tier, each tier featuring ombre lavender layers. Ultra-moist almond cake was the luscious vehicle for layers of snappy lemon curd and bright raspberry jam. Everything was topped with an eye-opening lemon buttercream with refreshing pops of zest.  Frothy pink roses and edible wafer paper butterflies embellished the sides of the cake. 

This cake brought me to some of my favorite places in New York.  NY Cake, my second home, is a must-know for anyone who wants to up their own pastry game.  Wandering though gives me so much inspiration! Another stop, the flower district, continues to take my breath away whenever I walk through… I first became acquainted with the flower district when I began food styling in 2017 and was smitten with the glamorous early-risers and their important missions of buying candy-bright flowers for Vogue shoots.  The flower market opens around 5:30am, and shops begin closing around 10:30am; the early bird gets the bouquet.  

Monday of fashion week was one long list of logistics, and I went into a headspace where I just power through one task after another.  Even though my brain was in list-mode, I was able to appreciate the fact that every single cake process is a story.  Every cake is a mini hero’s journey of highs, lows, trials, romance, magic, and ultimate triumph.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t breathe for two days straight while this two tiered buttercream beauty was under construction!

The first challenge is coaxing the buttercream to a perfectly smooth state. With buttercreams that contain abnormal shapes like bits of lemon zest, it’s hard to get it perfectly smooth. Challenge ACCEPTED. Blemishes drive me crazy. Marbling icing colors for a watercolor effect was an especially enjoyable part of the process. Then, if you’re delivering (and I was), there’s always a tense Uber ride where you’re clinging to the cake for dear life, lurching when the car lurches to counterbalance any unfortunate inertia. I had a hard time even lifting this cake, so enlisted the help of my boyfriend and most trusted assistant.  Putting the cake’s fate in the hands of anyone else is a terrifying prospect in and of itself.  There is such relief when the cake is finally GONE, out of your hands, to its final destination!

This is truly a cake that I am very proud of… I love when art mirrors art, and it was a treat to channel Anna Sui’s ethereal shapes and dreamy colors. What artist do you most want to see translated into cake form?  Be sure to comment with any suggestions!