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Dore Creperie tests concept of 'pop-up' restaurant

Posted by Roy Greene  November 10, 2011 11:02 AM

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What does a successful young attorney and community entrepreneur really want? A good lunch, of course. Maybe that’s why Vilas Dhar opened his first restaurant, Dore Creperie, on Beacon Street, in June. Only later this month he’ll be closing its doors.
The popular and temporary Dore Creperie
Photos

The popular and temporary Dore Creperie

Dore Creperie opened on Beacon Street in June. Later this month it will be closing its doors. That was the plan all along for the pop up restaurant, according to its owner. Boston Globe , 9:07 a.m.
Dhar couldn’t be happier: He’s doing exactly what he planned to do. Dhar, a lawyer before he became a restaurateur, opened Dore Creperie as a “pop-up,” a restaurant intended to stay open for a short while, create a buzz and then close its doors. He says his goal was to give a boost to the Downtown neighborhood near Government Center. And he thinks he’s done just that, bringing new food to the neighborhood and perhaps establishing a model for other entrepreneurs along the way. “So the whole point of doing a pop-up was to figure out a way where you could get through all the permitting and licensing quickly and be able to open a place where you could showcase your product,” Dhar says. “And if it takes off then you know people love it and you can go open a restaurant. So it’s a lot less risk.”

Dhar, 28, co-founded Dhar Law and says he’s seen that firm grow from two to 25 people in 18 months. His brother and partner, Vikas Dhar, describes him as, “a leader in many projects, including serving private law firm clients, as well as organizing many bar association, community and social justice events.”

In other words, the creperie has steered him far from his usual day job.

The 'Pop-Up'

The concept of the pop-up restaurant started in London in 2006, says the Metro UK. That restaurant named “The Reindeer” popped up for 23 days around Christmas. Since then the business model has made its way to the States. The concept? Open, create a splash, then close, sometimes to re-open somewhere else.

Pop-ups like Dore Creperie stay open for anywhere from a night to several months.

The pop-up aspect of his restaurant was the most important factor for Dhar.

“It wasn’t so important for me to make crepes; I just wanted to come with something totally different to Boston,“ he said.

Dhar’s inspiration came from a few of his clients at the law firm. Through them, he saw the difficulty of being an entertainer or restaurateur trying to open up a place in Boston. Dhar also saw the potential of many people in the area to have successful restaurants if they could get enough capital together.

Dhar noticed that it can take up to six months to get through the permits and paperwork to open a restaurant. Dore Creperie became Dhar’s experiment to find a faster way. After toying with ideas of a lemonade cart or food truck, Dhar decided on a pop-up restaurant in early May.

Dhar, along with two other attorneys and a general manager he hired, converted a boarded-up sandwich shop on Tremont and Beacon streets into the creperie, cutting through the permitting and zoning process in just five weeks. They were ready for business on June 18 as Boston celebrated the Bruins victory in the Stanley Cup.

“We opened with all of the construction, all the permits, all the licenses and all the food. Except for the fact that I was up until 4 a.m. the night before we opened, making our crepe batter, because we didn’t have a recipe for it.”

Next, of course, came the business of finding customers. There Dhar turned to giveaways and social media.

There was a T-shirt giveaway on opening day, each emblazoned with a logo resembling the Boston Bruins at the Stanley Cup parade. And there were “free crepe days” over Twitter and Facebook.

Dhar says he had a lot of help from, among others, the former owner, city councilors and veteran restaurant owners, but it was still a rush. On the day of the Bruins Parade, Dore Creperie opened with one menu item: a "Black and Gold" crepe filled with Nutella and bananas.

The current menu was finally curated only a month ago and the creperie now has a steady clientele. It is also running crepe-making classes four times a week.

“We realized this would be really popular so we put it on Living Social and then we had like 400 people sign up,” Dhar said.

Social media

Nonetheless, it hasn’t been easy.

For those not looking for Dore Creperie, it can be tough to find. Dhar and his partners chose not to put signs outside. Instead they used guerrilla marketing and social media.

“Signs cost so much and we knew we were only going to be here for six months, “ he said.

Much has been word-of-mouth. When the Creperie first opened, Dore sent its staff out to walk around and talk about crepes and pop-up restaurants. Although the guerrilla marketing worked, Dhar said the lack of signs still hurt.

“If you’re driving down Tremont Street, you don’t necessarily know there’s a creperie here until we’ve been here for a couple months.”

Social media campaigns helped close the gap.

Zach Braiker, president of Refine + Focus, a social media marketing and strategy consulting firm, said the pop-up is “doing an amazing job responding to the real-time web.”

Says Dhar: “We get people that come in and they say, ‘We’ve been following you on Twitter for three months but we’ve never been here, and we’ve been so excited to come!’ and that’s like that’s awesome to hear,” Dhar said. Dore Creperie has an engaged online community of more than 1,000 people on its Facebook and Twitter, he said.

What’s next?

As the Creperie’s Nov. 19 closing approaches, Dhar says it has been busier than ever, preparing more than 100 crepes each day for a strong breakfast and mid-afternoon business.

“Now we’ve got like a really steady sort of business and we’re closing down … but that’s part of the game, right?” Dhar said. “I wanted to prove the viability of the popup and now we want to shift to helping others create pop ups.”

Agatha Gomez, a Suffolk student and regular customer said she is sad to know the restaurant will be closing soon but will try to keep in contact with Dore. “I liked their page on Facebook, so I’m going to try to keep in touch and ask where they’re going and if they’re doing anything similar anywhere.”

Dhar says he’s keeping what’s next for him and his partners a surprise. “I just want to keep bringing really different kinds of food to Boston,” he says. “So maybe next year its something from the far reaches of like Sub-Saharan Africaor dumplings from Tibet or whatever it ends up being.”

He hints that he may not set up the next pop-up himself but back other young entrepreneurs to build on the pop-up tradition.

Or perhaps, he says, he’ll build a sort of communal restaurant where anyone “from a young guy who’s been grilling for a while and wants to like sell that product, like grilled chicken, to a grandmother who’s got the family recipe and has been doing it for years” can come to sell their products.

For now, Dhar is settling for serving a great lunch, one crepe at a time.

“To be totally blunt about it,” he says. “I just really like food and I like having a variety of options to go eat at.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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