Future Chefs Show Skills at UH Pop-Up Restaurants

Expect to see — and smell — a tasty array of new dining options popping up for lunch in the Hilton University of Houston’s courtyard during the fall semester. Students from the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management are running a series of pop-up, or temporary, restaurants called Pop-Up Barron’s.

With the student-run Barron’s Restaurant now closed to make way for a future student capstone experience, pop-ups are being used as a short-term replacement for the restaurant capstone class project.

In the highly competitive world of food service, pop-up restaurants can be a cost-effective way for young hospitality professionals to display their culinary skills while courting investors and attention before opening a brick and mortar restaurant or other concept.

“It’s a culmination of all the classes they’ve taken,” said Reba Haskell, lecturer for the Advanced Food and Beverage Management class. “It’s not really a cooking class, it’s more of an execution and production class.”

Teams of students are responsible for creating a menu, setting a budget, marketing, developing a training program and ultimately selling their product to the UH campus community. Profits go back to the college, while the real-world experience gained by the students will last a lifetime.

“Being so hands on gets us engaged and interested,” said senior Karla Nacionales, whose team served gourmet French fries with toppings including shredded pork or grilled shrimp.

Haskell said the project allows students to discover what marketable skills they’ve already mastered, while exposing any deficiencies before hitting the job market.

“They get to take ownership of something and make sure it’s successful,” she said. “This is a safe space where they can learn by making mistakes and not lose any money.”

Randy Duncan, a senior who already works as a hotel chef and runs a BBQ catering company, believes the experience will better prepare him for his goal of becoming an executive chef.

“It’s good for management to learn all aspects of the kitchen. That way they won’t just tell people what to do but can get in there and actually lend a hand, too,” he said.

Pop-Up Barron’s will serve up some creative cuisine every Tuesday-Thursday from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. through November 16 at various locations near the Hilton University of Houston.

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