Opening a pop-up store

Tarek Hassan launched his first enterprise, Gong Fo Bao, serving traditional Taiwanese steamed buns out of a food cart stationed at a busy downtown intersection near Confederation Park.

But to expand and fine-tune his offerings, Hassan used a strategy that’s becoming increasingly popular among retailers and restaurateurs: a pop-up shop.

The term typically refers to a temporary storefront in a high-traffic area, such as a shopping mall or busy street. While merchants specializing in seasonal merchandise such as Halloween decorations may be the most popular example, major retailers such as H&M and Starbucks have used pop-ups in a former brewery and rented event space, respectively, to test new concepts and generate buzz around their brand.

In Hassan’s case, the entrepreneur took his food truck menu indoors to Fontenelle Restaurant, a Vanier institution that’s served traditional diner food on Montreal Road for decades.

He pays the owners a flat rate to use the restaurant and takes over the space for his “one-offs” after Fontenelle’s closes for the day at 2 p.m. At his most recent event, customers were lined up down the street.

“Fontenelle’s is an old beautiful place. I have wanted to do it for years,” said Hassan.

Pop-ups are typically a win-win for entrepreneurs and their short-term landlords. As in Hassan’s case, an existing restaurant may turn over their space outside normal hours of operation to another business to help cover their rent and the cost of restaurant equipment that’s otherwise sitting idle.

Retailers, meanwhile, may take over a vacant storefront for a reduced rental rate for a short period of time or until the landlord finds a full-time paying tenant.

How to start

Be sure to have a proposal, outlining what you will do in the space, and a professional business plan ready before meeting your prospective landlord.

Pitch the pop-up as a win-win for both sides. Come prepared to tell the landlord what’s in it for them, such as increased foot traffic for their location and the financial upside of the income your temporary venture brings to their unused space.

You may be able to negotiate a reduced rate of the regular rent based on the number of days you will occupy the space or the fixed costs of the empty space. Or the rental payment could also be tied to a percentage of overall sales.

Be sure to research the area you are renting in to get an understanding of what other businesses are paying before approaching your potential landlord.

Pop-up benefits

Ottawa e-commerce giant Shopify has identified seven key benefits to pop-up shops:

  • Testing new revenue streams
  • Engaging customers
  • Creating “get it while it lasts” urgency through limited-time offerings
  • Marketing merchandise around a sale, season or holiday
  • Educating new customers
  • Going to where your customers are

Meet your merchants: Riding the crest

Lauren Power was no stranger to Vanier when she and Greg launched Red Door Provisions two years ago. She had spent her teens in the area, attending high school in neighbouring Rockcliffe.

After 10 years away, she returned to Ottawa to find big changes afoot in her old stomping ground.

“We saw that Beechwood was right on this crest of new development, with proposals for upscale condo projects,” she said. “We knew the potential of the neighbourhood and we wanted to be part of this renewal, part of the boost.”

This “boost” is happening across Vanier, from Beechwood, to McArthur Avenue and Montréal Road.

“Vanier is an up-and-coming place for sure,” Greg said. “It’s changing every day. We like the neighbourhood aspect – everyone knows everyone. It’s not overrun by big commercial entities. It still feels like most every business is unique to this area. Even the big box stores have this community vibe to them.”

As entrepreneurs, location combined with affordable real estate in their choice of Vanier. Manageable startup costs have allowed them to flourish. Their lunch café and bakery features a unique mix of fresh-made treats, great coffees and house sodas, hearty brunch fare, and Lauren’s own signature jams, marmalades, chutneys and garlic scapes.

Local entrepreneurs Lauren and Greg Power run Red Door Provisions, a cafe and bakery featuring homemade goods and a hearty brunch.
Photo by Mark Holleron

Meet your merchants: Tex mex with a Salvadoran twist

The combination of strong Francophone roots and multicultural diversity drew Maria Ventura and her family to Vanier more than 25 years ago.

Their household spoke French and Spanish, and found Vanier to be an inclusive community where they fit right in.

“I like Vanier because you can find people from everywhere,” Maria said. “I’ve raised three teenagers here and I’ve always been happy and comfortable to be part of this community.”

Nearly a decade ago, they realized her husband Roberto’s dream and parlayed his restaurant experience into their own eatery. They chose Montréal Road because it was an affordable commercial location with high visibility and lots of pass-by traffic.

Today, Tukan Restaurant is a bustling success. It’s one of only two restaurants in Ottawa to serve authentic Salvadoran cuisine, with a twist—it combines on the menu with Tex-Mex. Folks from all over the National Capital Region and even further come to enjoy traditional dishes made with rice, red silk bean, plantain, pork and fried fish, with alguashte (a sauce made with pumpkin seeds) and pupusa (stuffed corn tortillas).

“Vanier has changed a lot through the years and people have a very different concept of the community now,” said daughter Carolina. “There are more kids around, more families.”