After a week-long wait, customers come to The Corner on any given Sunday afternoon — the only day this particular food is available — ready to chow down on Sweet Jo’s chili and biscuits. On other days, they can enjoy CatHead’s BBQ, Soul Groove’s waffles and chicken and even Crazy Thai.
What sounds like a food mall is actually one small space at 18th and Mission streets, formerly The Corner restaurant, which hosts eight different vendors, six days a week. On Tuesdays it hosts private parties.
The Corner, once a second restaurant for the owners of Weird Fish, closed and transitioned into a pop-up restaurant at the beginning of the year. It is now, at least according to Jess Newton, the general manager who took over the space after the transition, “the only venue in San Francisco that is open solely for hosting pop-up restaurants.”
“The concept of 10 chefs in one place is crazy!” said Joanna Karlinsky from Sweet Jo’s Chili and Biscuits. “It’s like a mini version of Iron Chef.”
Once Karlinsky’s shift is over, the next chef in line, who has already been prepping in the lower-level kitchen, moves to the main kitchen, rearranges and cleans tables, sets out new menus and posts window signs with their name.
“We provide the space, the insurance, the permit, the electricity, and we even provide the beverages with a dedicated bartender,” said Bridget Reed, the pop-up’s social media coordinator.
Like the others who cook there, Karlinsky understands she’s unlikely to get rich, but she does it to market herself, “meet cool people” and maybe one day become established. The owners of nearby Mission Chinese and Commonwealth got their start as pop-ups.
To become part of The Corner’s pop-up family, the chefs meet with Newton or Reed, pitch their idea and, depending on the day and slot available, pay roughly $250 for any food period — breakfast, lunch or dinner — between Sunday and Wednesday, including Thursday’s morning and afternoon periods. It’s roughly $450 to take over on weekends, including Thursday evening.
Tony Ferrari, the Monday night chef of the Bernal Supper Club, said his one night takes three days of preparation. He buys produce on Saturday, preps on Sunday and serves his market cuisine on Monday.
Reed said that she likes the pop-up concept, but running the venue can be challenging.
The slots have to be filled, preferably with chefs who already have a following, she said.
There isn’t much competition for pop-ups in the neighborhood yet, but as new chefs enter into the market, they find out through word of mouth or social media.
“You just have to just be in the know,” Reed said.
Through all the ups and downs of the arrangement, “the best thing about this pop-up is the promise of family, and when I say family, I’m talking about the restaurant,” said Karlinsky.