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Can pop-ups help restaurants ride out the COVID wave?

Uploaded: Oct 2, 2020
Six months into the coronavirus shutdown, more local establishments are turning to pop-ups as a way to invigorate their businesses.

Vineyard Gate, a natural wine shop in Millbrae, has invested in transforming its backyard patio to host socially distanced, reservation-only meals starting next weekend. (It was slated to start this weekend but postponed due to unhealthy air quality.)

"The vision here is to collaborate with Peninsula chefs to get them working again on sit-down service instead of just takeout," said owner Alex Bernardo. "For us at Vineyard Gate, we are desperate for customer traffic after six months of being closed. These pop-ups hopefully will bring in badly needed sales."

Ox & Tiger will serve its chicken karaage at an outdoor, socially distanced pop-up at Vineyard Gate in Millbrae. Photo courtesy Ox & Tiger.

On Saturday, Oct. 10, local pop-up Ox & Tiger will be serving its Japanese-Filipino fare with a wine flight created by Bernardo. The menu will include dishes like tsukune lumpia (a mashup of the Japanese chicken meatball and Filipino spring roll), mentaiko pancit (garlic noodles with spicy cod roe and onsen tamago, a slow-cooked, custardy egg), chicken karaage and milk bread rolls with black sesame coffee butter. The pop-up will run from from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The events will have strict safety protocols in place. Vineyard Gate's patio is fenced in and away from the street and can fit up to eight socially distanced tables, each separated by planters. When making a reservation with Ox & Tiger, every diner will be asked to fill out a health check questionnaire (reservations also allow for contract tracing, if needed). Parties will be limited to six or fewer people who must stay at their assigned table and not "loiter" in the patio. Diners must wear masks at all times except when eating or drinking. Ox & Tiger will use disposable plates and utensils. Every reservation will be limited to 75 minutes.

Alex Bernardo of Vineyard Gate is hoping pop-ups will bring much-needed sales to his wine shop, which has been closed since March. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

The meal costs $65 per person and must be reserved in advance. For more information, go to (Separate from the pop-ups, Ox & Tiger's takeout food is also regularly available for pickup at Vineyard Gate.)

Bernardo is working on scheduling more pop-ups with other local chefs, many who he said are unable to work their usual jobs at tech companies or hotels that are temporarily closed due to the pandemic.

On Oct. 14 and 15, from 5:30-7 p.m., chef Kha Lu, who's cooked at the Michelin-starred Plumed Horse in Saratoga and Prime Restaurant at the Plaza Suites Hotel in Santa Clara, will be cooking "Mediterranean-inspired" dishes like uni risotto arancini and shrimp and grits with Thai chili and herbs. He will donate $15 of each reservation to benefit victims of the Glass Fire.

"In the longer term, these pop-ups could be part of the new model for dining out," Bernardo said.

In San Carlos, Johnston's Saltbox started this month turning its kitchen over on Sundays to local chefs for what its owners are calling "Sunday Supper Club." The first pop-up featured Aaron Grimm, a chef from Pixar who made tandoori chicken kebabs, paneer tacos and Indian popsicles. The following week was a lobster roll pop-up from Tim Hilt, who oversees Oracle's campus cafes in Redwood Shores.

Tandoori chicken kebab wrap (left) and paneer tacos (right) from a recent chef pop-up at Johnston's Saltbox in San Carlos. Photos via Johnston's Saltbox Instagram.

The pop-ups will take place every Sunday through Nov. 1 and are only available for outdoor dining (no takeout orders). Check the Johnston's Saltbox Instagram for updates and menus.

Palo Alto natural wine bar Salvaje also continues to host a coffee bar during the week and bring in Bay Area chefs and pop-ups on the weekends.

Meanwhile, Wise Sons, the San Francisco Jewish deli, is teaming up with Jewish community centers and synagogues throughout the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula, to host local pop-ups. The events were "born from a desire to support our local communities while also finding ways to provide resources for our employees," said Jerome Dees of Wise Sons.

The deli's bagels, shmears, challah, smoked salmon, pastrami and other fare will be available for pre-order for contactless pickup. Wise Sons will be at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo on Oct. 15 and the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto on Oct. 30.

Wise Sons is open to bringing pop-ups anywhere within a 60 mile radius of San Francicso. People interested in bringing Wise Sons to their area can email
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What is it worth to you?


Posted by Rose, a resident of Mayfield,
on Oct 5, 2020 at 7:22 pm

Rose is a registered user.

Could we see more reviews of restaurants in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Mountain View? Not many of us are going to head to Millbrae or San Carlos for a meal, unless we live or work there.

Posted by panative, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 8, 2020 at 11:40 pm

panative is a registered user.

We regularly head up and down the Peninsula for takeout food these days. The traffic is so light that it's the perfect opportunity to venture farther afield and try new spots. Elena, we love your coverage. Keep it up!

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