A bar with swings for chairs and a colourful mural
Keefer Yard

6 Canadian pandemic pop-ups that are here to stay

From pop-up to permanent.

As difficult as the pandemic was for the food-and-drink industry, there has been impressive innovation over the past few years as chefs, bakers and makers have figured out how to test new products and concepts. In 2021, the Ontario provincial government relaxed regulations around home-based food businesses, making it easier for people to sell “low-risk” items (like certain breads, baked goods and preserves) and open pop-up locations. Canadian Restaurant & Foodservice News predicts we’ll be seeing a lot more pop-ups, with just as many committing to bricks-and-mortar locations.

For some, these pop-ups were an extension of existing businesses, created to host people in an outdoor space; for others, it was an opportunity to launch something brand new from their home kitchens. But they soon became much more. Many “temporary” hustles developed loyal followings and are now planting longterm roots. Here are some of the country’s top pop-up spots that now have permanent homes.

Ernie’s Icebox

A person's hand holding two ice cream sandwiches

After keeping busy with Ernie’s Icebox in her home kitchen during Toronto’s pandemic lockdowns, owner Julia Haist is working hard to keep up with demand at her new storefront in the west-end neighbourhood of Baby Point. Her from-scratch ice cream sandwiches, which boast a perfect ratio of ice cream to cookie, quickly earned fans through online pre-orders and appearances at farmers’ markets. When doors opened for the first day of business on July 1, there was already a lineup down the block. The menu is always changing, but you can expect to find flavour combinations like peanut butter and jam, strawberry-rhubarb and s’mores.


Bucky Rooster’s

Three fried chicken sandwiches stacked on top of one another

Launched in 2020 by the team behind local institution Arthurs Nosh Bar, Bucky Rooster’s specializes in fried chicken in all its many forms. The menu is the result of months of perfecting fried chicken, chef Alex Cohen told Time Out Montreal, and features a number of influences, including Louisianan and Korean. The signature, Bucky Buckets, is a bucket full of chicken fingers. There are also sandwiches, wings and sides like waffle fries and mac and cheese. For balance, there’s a comprehensive pie menu for dessert, including blueberry, key lime ice cream and orange creamsicle.


The Deli by Picnic Whistler

A woman in a brown hat holds a charcuterie board and smiles in an outdoor setting.

Prompted by her own difficulties finding a charcuterie board for her wedding, Amy Mac launched her company in 2020 with the intention of working as a caterer. Now, she has her own storefront in the heart of Whistler Village. On the menu, you’ll find artfully designed grazing boxes sized to satisfy between two and six people, with vegan options (plant-based cheeses and dips) and brunch (including croissants, parfaits and waffles) as well as the “OG,” which features three types of cheese, meats and crackers and bread from a local bakery.


The Keefer Yard

The interior of a nighttime venue with purple lighting.

The Keefer Bar has a reputation for expertly crafted cocktails. During the pandemic, the bar opened up The Keefer Yard, an outdoor space next door that offers a more casual take on cocktails – and comes complete with a mini-golf course. The space is now covered and heated, making it an ideal year-round destination for an after-work drink or a cozy night out. The menu includes creative options like sake sangria and a Flamingroni, which contains strawberry-and-bergamot gin.


Luke’s Small Goods

Four jars with coloured labels on a plain background with a ray of sunlight.

What started as a small bakery supplying local restaurants (including Dartmouth’s Dear Friend Bar and Café GoodLuck) with freshly baked bread and other dough treats in spring 2021 turned into a larger outfit making regular weekend appearances at the Halifax Brewery Farmers’ Market and now a dedicated Luke’s Small Goods storefront in Halifax’s North End. The welcoming café offers ready-to-go options, like croissants, tomato-and-ricotta danishes and various sourdoughs, which get snapped up quickly. It’s a perfect stop for breakfast or lunch, with hearty sandwiches like egg salad with kewpie mayo and a ploughman’s platter on offer.


Burger Drops

Open hamburgers with sliced cheese and bacon, with people in black visible in the background.

Before the pandemic hit, the team behind Burger Drops’ smash burgers had a summer’s worth of pop-ups planned in Toronto. But when it came time to start social distancing, they pivoted: Customers would pre-order food online and then meet them at hidden locations around the city, like a small yard behind a restaurant, where they had a grill set up for cooking patties. Now, with a permanent home, the spot serves up classic triple-A beef burgers topped with slices of American cheese as well as chicken sandwiches, crinkle fries and onion rings. It’s as close to Shake Shack as one can get in the city.

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