Ithaca does have a foodie history. Quite a variety and range of quality for such a small city. Article from The Ithaca Independent:
The Next Ithaca Foodie Thrill: Pop-up Restaurants and Food Trucks
By: Ed Sutherland | March 3, 2013 | 2 Comments
Upstate New York college town is so dense with restaurants, the New York Times called Ithaca a “gastronomic oasis.” Now the city of around 30,000 is more of a moveable feast, adopting pop-up restaurants and neighborhood food trucks to pique the interest of today’s ADD foodie.
While the Mercato Bar & Kitchen prepares for its April return after its December closing due to fire, two employees of the restaurant have become the latest to venture into pop-up restaurants. The trend, borrowed from the business sector, allows would-be chefs and discontented kitchen staff to strike out on their own without the heavy investment in traditional bricks-and-mortar restaurants.
Chef Graham Elliot Bowles "It’s a good way of saying ‘Screw you’ to the whole system,” explains Chicago chef Graham Elliot Bowles to the Food and Wine website. Bowles, who in 2008 was a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, explained the “pop-up idea takes away a ton of the pomp and barriers, like having to make reservations months in advance or wear certain kinds of clothes.”
For Mercator bartender Manny Flores and sous chef Gentry Morris, who created “Belly Ithaca,” the goal is more light-hearted. The men serve local pork creations two nights a week at the Lot 10 lounge on Cayuga Street.
“The main thing is that we want this to be fun,” Flores told the Ithaca Times. First opened on Feb. 15, the “indoor food truck” serves customers Friday and Saturday nights from 7pm to 12:30am. The pop-up has a one-month trial run with Lot 10, which stopped offering a restaurant in 2012 due to too few customers. Since opening its two-night per week gig, Belly Ithaca sees around 75 patrons each evening.
The downtown Ithaca lounge has also hosted other restaurant workers looking to strike out on their own. In early February, Asya Ollis held a one-night event with two seatings. Ollis, general manager at the Southwest-inspired restaurant Agava, used the pop-up to highlight her Southern Indian recipes. During the summer, Ollis sells Sadya Snacks at the Ivy League Cornell University and the Ithaca Farmer’s Market, a popular foodie gathering along the city’s waterfront.
Indian food is most often prepared around a family dinner table, rather than a formal restaurant. The small city filled with students from a wide-range of cultures is well suited for her style of cooking.
“You need the right type of population, and Ithaca is a great fit for this type of cuisine,” she told the Times.
While pop-up restaurants for now are predominantly appearing in Ithaca’s downtown, near the captive student population and the city’s restaurant row, in the west side — where most foodies fear to tread — is the Circus Truck. The truck, parked in an unused West Seneca gravel lot, is the brainchild of a cook turned circus sideshow and independent restaurateur.
“Circus Truck is a street food vendor where hungry Ithacans can get both food and circus entertainment. The ringmaster is a confident, self-made chef and sideshow artist named J.P. Vico,” writes the Ithacan, the student newspaper of Ithaca College.
Vico serves staples of the working man and woman, including spaghetti and homemade noodles. The truck is available 9am to 3pm, Monday through Friday and 6pm to 3am Friday and Saturday. Fans can also order ahead of time on Facebook.
According to the Ithacan, Vico embraces traditional street vending. “There’s no middle person. When I make food here, I can make what I want to make, and I can get it right to you, hot and fresh,” he explained.
Although the creator of the Circus Truck has worked at everything from construction to desk jobs, cooking has always been his chief interest. At the same time he’s fulfilling his dream of being a cook, Vico also enjoys the independence while supporting his family.
Being located in the west end of Ithaca, where you’re likely to see more homeless people pushing Wegman’s shopping carts than upscale foodies, Vico makes a point of also handing out his culinary creations to local passersby.
While the concept of pop-up restaurants and food trucks may appear new, both are only a twist on age-old business tactics coupled with the Twitterization of genetic urges tracing their origin back to the African savanna.
For years, businesses have adopted pop-up stores during busy holidays such as Christmas and Halloween. The benefits are many, reports suggest.
“Pop-up stores started getting very popular a few years ago. They’re cheaper solutions than year-round rentals, and they can generate a lot of buzz for companies during essential months,” BusinessInsider.com writes.
In Ithaca, pop-stores usually open in unleased shopping strips hawking Halloween gear.
As for food trucks, they’ve been in existence for decades, serving work sites with hot lunch. Although Ithaca’s factories are closed, food trucks remain – just revamped to serve a new generation with more adventurous tastes.
The idea of limited availability is perfect for customers accustomed to living in short bursts online. Indeed, the concept seems like it could have been created in the classrooms of Cornell’s Johnson School for Business. For some time, marketers have used the ‘limited time’ offers and ‘buy now’ come-ons to move products.
“People are really hooked on something that’s limited,” cookbook author Josh Greenspan explained to Food and Wine. If there is no urgency, potential customers may just put off tasting that new delicacy.
If pop-up restaurant patrons don’t like the idea that they are being manipulated, perhaps a genetics explanation is more palatable.
Chasing after food harkens back to the days of hunting and gathering, when we stalked gazelles or big game. While most modern urban executives don’t commute with spear in hand, they get the same thrill through pop-ups, one brain researcher argues.
“Humans as a species are characterized by novelty- and intensity-seeking,” psychologist Marvin Zuckerman wrote in a report for the Dana Foundation, which supports brain research. The same old thing — like going to restaurants — means less of a rush of endorphins.
“For food lovers, there’s always another pop-up to supply the next fix,” says New York City writer Abdelnour.
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