The concept isn't new. Pop-ups were born of the speakeasy fashion during Prohibition - 1920 to 1933 - with over 1,000 "organized" secret dining groups currently ongoing, across North America, Europe and Latin America.
With the high cost of opening a restaurant, what's a young chef with a clever idea to do? In San Francisco, the answer is to set up a temporary restaurant in an existing space a few nights a week. By taking advantage of underused kitchens, pop-ups allow young chefs to experiment without the risk of a full-fledged operation.
Even Chef Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse, started out deep in the underground dining circuit in the late '60s. Waters' community-conscious dinners, mostly for free-speech campaigners, became popularized as Alice's Restaurant.
The underground movement though is more about emphasising food as a social experience, meeting new people, eating well at a reasonable price. They are called Supperclubs (US), paladares (Cuba), 'locked door' restaurant (Argentina), underground restaurants (UK)... the trend is so stealth that nobody can estimate the number of secret pop-up dining locations.
We loved the concept, and are now bringing it to New Zealand, hoping it will spread here too...