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Innovation Keeps Brooklyn Chefs Going While Offering Diners a New and Authentic Eating Experience

Pop-up restaurants and delivery services are being launched across the borough to sustain chefs during COVID-19, while giving a new outlet for their culinary skills.
Photo: Erika Costa and Kamayan Box

The restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19. But in adversity there is also opportunity, and chefs and hospitality staff in Brooklyn are showing how resilient and creative they are with the rise of pop-up restaurants.

Across the borough, current and former restaurant staff are striking out on their own to both sustain themselves and to try their hands at running their own businesses, often introducing diners to traditional foods from different countries and creating a whole new and authentic dining experience with them.

Contents of Kamayan Box
A traditional Kamayan Box. Photo: Erica Costa.

Erika Costa, a chef and manager with Bushwick cafe Baby Skips, recently launched the Kamayan Box, which serves traditional Filipino food -- with both meat and vegan options -- in a pizza box that can feed between two to four people.

"I feel like I found a solution to what people are looking for right now," Costa said. "Restaurants are closing left and right. We're looking for something new and something that's more exciting.

Costa releases her special menu on Instagram, where she also takes orders. Her most recent pop-up menu was over Thanksgiving and was fitting for the holiday with her saying, "you open a box you're just going to be like, whoa. This is a lot of food."

The ability for restaurants and their staff to transition to different models of work has become essential. In the United States the amount of people dining out has declined by a staggering 50%.

Almost 200,000 restaurant workers are now jobless and many beloved Brooklyn favorites have permanently closed. However, while there is undeniable adversity in the restaurant industry, some are using it as an opportunity.

Founder of Ada Supper Club, a Black and female chef centered business, Nkem Oghedo said the rise of pop-up restaurants was a good thing for the industry, which she said needed change.

Food from Ada Supper Club
Food from Ada Supper Club. Photo: Kelsey Cher.

Oghedo likened some of the experiences of chefs in the hospitality business to "modern day slavery" and said Ada Supper Club was creating "space and for these chefs to tell stories in their own terms."

"People were being abused left and right, and whole bunch of nonsense was going on. And so, as much as it's a tragedy that people are losing jobs and some of our favorite restaurants are going under at the same time, I think the shake-up is necessary," Oghedo said. "Because a lot of the industry was just abusive."

Oghedo delivers meals cooked by a range of chefs focused on traditional African cuisine to homes in order to "curate intentional dining experiences that combine Black and female perspectives with elegant contemporary aesthetics." You can get more information and join the waitlist here.

Jessica and Trina Quinn. Photo: Instagram.

Jessica and Trina Quinn, who worked as chefs at separate restaurants before the pandemic, made a decision to start serving Eastern European comfort food out of their Bed-Stuy home.

They called their restaurant Dacha and have committed themselves to it with no plans of going back to working for someone else, which Jessica Quinn predicted to be the beginning of a trend.

"For the most part a lot of our colleagues in the industry who used to work in restaurants and no longer work in restaurants, it seems like whatever projects they're currently working on or it's going to be more of a long-lasting thing than people realize," Quin said.

"If you ask me, I'd say the majority of the people that you see running pop-ups will either continue running pop-ups or eventually those pop-ups will turn into actual brick and mortar businesses."