IIt’s Friday night and a deep thud from inside the Jupiter Bar mingles with the sound of feet glued to the ground. At the counter, Situ Tacos founder Lupe Flores gives her crispy tacos a second fry. Previously, she stuffed fillings into hundreds of tortillas, then sewn the top of each with a pair of toothpicks to create a small package filled with flavor.
On Beacon Hill, Homer’s Deputy Chief Sara Eveland shows up, but she already has a full day at work. She’s set her alarm clock for 4:30 a.m. to get up, bake, and deliver huge snickerdoodles and lemon poppy seed waffles for her fledgling business, My Friend’s Cookies. After a morning spent mixing the dough while keeping tabs on his two young children, Cam Hanin unboxes his car and sets up his Guerilla Pizza Kitchen popup for a night launch of 90 naturally fermented pies at Fast Penny Spirits in Queen Anne.
These are just three of the many people fueling the current abundance of popups, Instagram businesses, and a myriad of other food situations too nascent to categorize. Many of these operations took place during pandemic shutdowns, but others who have been working on them for some time find their customers newly familiar with limited hours and online orders. Each business model will likely adapt and evolve as you read this, but collectively this energy is sure to shape the next chapter in a food scene that always comes back from the brink of pandemic.
Before Covid, Lupe Flores ran a bar and played drums in three Seattle bands – a livelihood not particularly suited to remote working. The idea of staying at home to collect unemployment “made me lose my mind,” she recalls. Flores started making crispy tacos like her Mexican Lebanese grandmother taught her when she was a child. If you means “grandmother” in Lebanese Arabic, and the shells bought in store on the spot of Lupe. She fried her tortillas and then stuffed them with toppings taken from loved ones, like hushwe-style beef baked in browned butter. Then she secured the top with a pair of toothpicks and fry the whole thing again.
Flores does hers the same way, with a few updates: a deep fryer, a vegan cauliflower filling so spicy and satisfying it rivals meat. She started outside Tractor Tavern, then moved to Jupiter, giving people a reason to visit even when the shows were on hiatus.
This summer, she finally returned to the show, but her taco business inadvertently created such an following that she couldn’t dismantle it. “I explored the idea of a brick and mortar,” she says. But with the number of tours and shows in his life, “that doesn’t make sense.” Along the way, she added nachos to the menu, then acquired a staff of three “badass” women who will continue to fry Situ Tacos at Jupiter. After coming of age resisting authority, Flores is still surprised to own a legitimate business. Then she thinks about her situation. “It comes from my culture,” she says. “Even though she’s been dead for 20 years, she looks like she would be proud.” Jupiter’s current timeline is closest to Situ Tacos for a long-term plan. “I might hang it up someday, but I don’t think so. “
Ask any adult to extend a wide hand and you will get closer to the size of Sara Eveland’s biscuits. She reveled in classic chocolate chips and snickerdoodles, but also “more twisted or updated versions” like strawberries and cream made with white chocolate, almonds and pieces of dehydrated fruit. Like Flores, she founded My Friend’s Cookies by chance, but plans to continue.
Last spring, a cook friend from Eveland’s started Good Shape Pizza, one of the freeform pizza companies that proved to be a rare bright spot in 2020. Its concise menu was in need of some sort of dessert. Eveland, then head of Sunny Hill, offers to bake him cookies. Then come a few pastry sales and a few wholesalers. Now, on the days when she’s not working at Homer’s (and, increasingly, the days when she does), Eveland spends the morning cooking. Next come deliveries, her favorite part of the job. Instilling joy into the confines of a restaurant kitchen doesn’t have as much of an impact as handing someone a box of baked goods on their porch. “This year has been difficult for everyone,” she says. “No one is mad at cookies.”
A year ago, Eveland had no plans for a career as a baker. It’s a mental shift, she admits, but seems to offer a faster path to appealing to her own career paths than the traditional restaurant route. “I worked a long time, but I never really did anything for myself.
Providing his own, unfiltered vision was Cam Hanin’s goal when he founded Guerilla Pizza Kitchen in June 2019, long before terms like “social distancing” and “vaxxed” became everyday vernacular. Natural sourdough pizza was also a rarity at the time. His pop-up wasn’t born out of an unemployment pandemic, but the months he spent running an à la carte community kitchen with a few other like-minded chefs have refined his take on it.
Hanin has a food truck in the works, makes regular appearances at distilleries and breweries, and arranges the occasional collaboration of chefs like a Japanese-inspired “pizza-kaya” with chef Mutsuko Soma at his sake bar, Hannyatou. He has no idea where Guerilla Pizza Kitchen will be in a year from now. “But in, like, 10 years?” Man, I just want a cool little worker-
Cooperative owned pizzeria.
Business models outside of brick and mortar create a more vibrant dining scene, yes, but Hanin sees value beyond a landscape full of singular pizzas and tacos. The current wave of food trucks, popups, artisan bakeries and so-called residences in established kitchens provide opportunities for chefs who do not have sufficient relationships or lines of credit. “It is crucial to give everyone the opportunity to cook the foods they want to cook,” he says. This benefits everyone, cooks and customers.