Truth Editorial: Jazz Festival and pop-up restaurants raise coolness factor

Posted on June 19, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

Elkhart’s hipness factor is never going to match San Francisco’s, Seattle’s or Vancouver’s. But it’s ready to spike this weekend.

Jazz musicians do that for a community. They don’t even need to play a note — they raise the coolness level here just by showing up for the Elkhart Jazz Festival.

So do chefs who take chances and open pop-up restaurants.

Pop-up restaurants, also known as supper clubs, flourish in cities with avant-garde food scenes — places like Denver, Portland, Ore., and Nashville, Tenn. Chefs open them in empty storefronts, airport hangars, even established restaurants after they’ve closed for the night. All they need is a kitchen and a dining space.

Some operate for a few months, some for a week or two, some for a single night. They usually rely on social media and word of mouth for publicity. Chefs open supper clubs for the chance to show their creativity and cooking prowess.

Two established restaurants plan to open pop-ups in downtown Elkhart for the Jazz Festival, Lucchese’s and ModMex.

Lucchese’s left the riverfront for a new spot on C.R. 17 five years ago. Executive Chef Zach Lucchese toyed with the idea of opening a pop-up at the old restaurant during the 2011 Jazz Festival, but it was just a shell; he would’ve been forced to rent everything he needed.

Lucchese found a home for his supper club this year at the old Flytraps restaurant on Main.

“Everything was actually in really good condition,” Lucchese told The Elkhart Truth’s food writer, Marshall King, Obtaining the necessary permits turned out to be his biggest challenge. Lucchese said.

ModMex, a relatively young restaurant, plans to close its place on Toledo Road and move into the old Buetter’s Sewing Center on Main for the weekend.

No kitchen? No problem. The owners say for a couple days, they can work from a steam table.

Elkhart’s traditional downtown restaurants — places like 523 Tap & Grill, the Vine and Stirred — help define the Jazz Festival. Dinner to start the evening, a quick drink between acts — it’s all part of the cosmopolitan vibe that makes this event so distinctive. They’re packed wall-to-wall Friday and Saturday.

Downtown Elkhart Inc., which runs the festival, saw an opportunity.

“We have demand that exceeds the supply for eating and drinking establishments,” said Dan Boecher, a DEI board member.

Now, with the addition of the Lucchese’s and ModMex pop-ups, jazz fans can experience something cutting-edge, established downtown restaurants can continue to thrive, and the festival can grow.

Who knows? The success of a supper club during this week’s Jazz Festival might even persuade more restaurants to open downtown.

And if that happens, Elkhart can be hip all year — not just during the Jazz Festival.

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