Courtesy of Y Pop-Up

There was one question on everyone’s mind at Y Pop-Up this summer: “Can Y Pop-Up exist this fall?”

Y Pop-Up is an undergraduate student-run restaurant that offers a fine dining experience to other student guests. Openings are often centered around a theme for each evening. For instance, last November, the group hosted a Harry Potter event with Polyjuice potion — a green curry soup — and Forbidden Forest Pasta — a spinach pasta with ragù bianco, mushrooms and woodsy herbs. Another event revolved around a “Colors” theme with beetroot gnocchi and pesto, alongside purple patatas bravas.

The group, composed of cook, business and bake teams, normally operates out of a “transformed Silliman buttery” on alternating Fridays throughout the semester. This year, COVID-19 restrictions have forced the group to reimagine how to continue their operations.

“We’re really brainstorming about how we can keep people engaged with food and the Y Pop-Up group and ethos, even in a virtual environment,” said Alexa Stanger ’21, a member of the baking team and a former staffer for the News.

Prior to COVID-19, normal operations for Y Pop-Up spanned the duration of an entire week. According to Y Pop-Up co-President and Head Chef James Han ’24 and Lauren Salzman ’23, co-President and co-business team head, planning for the week began on Mondays with cook teams generating various recipes and ingredient lists to be reviewed by the head chef. Once a menu was created, the business team began planning communications, reservations and operations for the day of dinner service.

Previously, students would reserve spots online throughout the week for the Friday night event. A standard reservation cost $18 for a six-course meal. At each opening, Y Pop-Up served roughly 60-70 people, their maximum capacity for an evening.

Cooking usually began either Thursday evening or Friday morning, with the restaurant opening on Friday evenings. After dinner service, the entire Y Pop-Up team would conclude the evening with a staff meal together. Salzman noted that “COVID has definitely posed unique challenges for all extracurriculars, especially those, like Pop-Up, that rely so heavily on an in person experience.”

“Everyone in Y Pop-Up really enjoys it, and it’s a really close community, so we all really wanted to do something,” Stanger added. “And we’re all really obsessed with food, so we didn’t want to abandon it, but we knew that we practically could not have Pop-Up restaurants.”

Likewise, Han pointed to safety concerns for such a large operation that often included eight to 10 chefs in the “small” Silliman kitchen.

Despite the challenges, Y Pop-Up has been devising new potential ways to safely bring the dining experience to students.

“We’ve considered distant dining options, including take out, cooking in the open or doing things you can reheat at home,” Han said. “It’s something that a lot of professional restaurants have been doing.”

In addition, Y Pop-Up is taking this year as an opportunity to ask larger questions about dining. For instance, one of the questions Han said the group has been exploring is “as a cook, what standards should we hold, especially when making foods from different cultures?”

Another goal for the group this year is to better connect Yale students with food. According to Han, the group is trying to get students to think more about the food they eat. Y Pop-Up hopes to “get people cooking better, healthier and cheaper,” Han said.

Given COVID-19’s impact on people across the country, Stanger pointed out that many students may now be cooking for themselves and that the group wants to help students who have not had much experience with cooking in the past.

In addition, the team is looking for opportunities to branch out to other groups on campus, Stanger said. For example, the group is trying to increase collaboration with Yale’s cultural centers, as well as encourage other students to “share recipes that mean a lot to them.”

“One of Pop-Up’s missions has always been to examine the ways in which food and identity are intertwined. A silver lining of not having physical openings is that we have the opportunity to explore these questions in new formats such as through writing and videos,” Salzman said.

Han indicated that priorities for the group have adapted to the context of the situation, and he hopes to “make Y Pop-Up less about the fine dining right now and more about food that is just wholesome and makes people happier or more comforted during these pandemic times.”

Y Pop-Up was founded in 2009. Learn more about the group at yalepopup.org and on their Instagram (@ypopup).

Aiden Lee | aiden.lee@yale.edu