Here’s the thing. I love art + I love anything that brings wonderful people together. The Chinatown Experiment does both, plus good food, pretty clothes, local + international entrepreneurs, even weddings. See, The Chinatown Experiment is a pop up shop host, and more! People with ideas get in touch with Devon MacKenzie + Yash Nijati, the team behind TCE, to bring those visions to life. Not only do these two fellas create a space for these projects, but they can help with the entire process of launching + promoting your shop. Think of them as Pop Up Architects.
They’ve recently opened a new space called The Midtown Experiment, which itself is a sort of pop up shop in that it’s only here for the Spring. I met Yash at Revolver Coffee to learn more! Here it is ::
1. Tell me a little bit about how The Chinatown Experiment started.
So Devon saw a need for people needing a space for pop ups and that’s how it all started in September 2012. Then, in May 2013, I rented the space for my own pop up, because I have another business (Yummus) and I had a pop up café there. I wasn’t just serving hummus, but that was a part of it. And then afterwards, I had some ideas that he thought were really interesting. So, from there, we started working together.
2. How did The Chinatown Experiment transition to include The Midtown Experiment?
When it started, it was just about space rental. But, after I came on, it was more that we were offering a service as pop up architects. So, helping people find space, helping people with the marketing, helping people promote. When you do a pop up there’s a lot that comes in to make it happen. We always had our shop and sometimes people would come back to us for our service but maybe they didn’t want to do it in that space again so we help them find one. Or maybe they would say they want to do another pop up, but that’s not really the right market. So we had some history of doing that a bunch. In Midtown, there’s actually a development going up there who got in touch with us and said “we have this empty store and we’d like to get some use out of it before it gets torn down, are you interested in creating what you did in Chinatown and bringing it over here?” We thought it was a great idea. It gives us, for three months, a second location, a kitchen, appliances, a different option.
3. So The Midtown Experiment itself is almost like a pop up too. It’s temporary?
Yes, it is. It started at the end of March, but it’s really going to get going this week. And until June 1st, we will have back to back pop ups.
4. Have you noticed a difference in the types of shops in Chinatown versus the types of shops in Midtown? Is it a different experience?
Yeah. Midtown offers two things that Chinatown doesn’t. One, it’s a bigger space. Two, it doesn’t have as much foot traffic, but a lot of drive by traffic. And it’s on the corner. So if somebody’s trying to get their logo and their brand recognized it’s a great place to put it there.
As far as clients go, two of the clients there have been with us in Chinatown, but this is a better fit for them. So, a similar client base.
5. What’s the process for someone who wants to host a pop up shop?
Email us! Some people write like page-long paragraphs because they’re really passionate and some people just write to ask what our rates are. People inquire with us and we tell them our rates, tell them what we do. It’s only been about 18 months, so people know that we do the space, but they don’t necessarily know that we do everything else.
If somebody wants to book with us, we generally look at our schedule and spread out similar shops a bit because we don’t want to have a bunch of galleries, or a lot of clothing stores in a row, so we spread it out because we want it to be a mix of things.
6. So, you have the space rental. What are the other services you offer?
We doing everything. We have a client coming in from Calgary now who has stores across Canada, but they’re not in BC yet. They want to open a store, but they want to do a pop up first and we’re helping them with everything. So space, a PR campaign around the pop up, poster design, putting together a launch event. We’re organizing everything for that like a liquor sponsorship, licensing, anything really so they just bring the product and set up. We’re doing window vinyls for them, and that’s pretty much everything that we do.
So some people will say yes, we want it all and others just want the space.
7. Do you feel there’s a common takeaway that your clients have after hosting a pop up shop?
I would say that the general thing of it is people realize that it’s not that hard to do. If you haven’t done it before and we help you in some ways, then it’s just a matter of doing it. So they realize it is a lot of work, yes, but it’s not hard. Anyone with the right planning can do it. Also, some people really get a lot of exposure from us, the younger brands. You know, they’re not really looking for a lot of sales but more for exposure. So generally it’s something, that if you don’t have a store, it’s really just a no brainer to do.
8. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to do a pop up shop?
Know why you’re doing it. Some people will do it as a launch, some people will do it for sales, some people will do it for networking + to get into the media. So know why you’re doing it because your approach is going to be very different and the steps you need to get there based on your goal. So be clear on that first.
9. Is there any type of shop that you’d be really interested in doing? Something where if someone approached you with it, you’d be super excited to get started.
Yeah, that actually happened. I always really wanted to have a pop up florist, so we’re going to have that for Mother’s Day weekend. Myself, I reached out to a local graffiti artist who does street script. It’s rap lyrics done on a poster then pasted onto the walls. So, I reached out to her and said “hey you should do this with us.” We’re having a hip hop night with her artwork for sale. What else?! I like to do theme nights. Where you come in and, say someone’s selling cabana chairs, we’ll make the store look like a beach. It’s more pricey but it stands out. You know, products on a shelf are great but the theme is better.
10. When I did a little research on you, the Internet told me that you’re a pro when it comes to sales. What’s your secret?
I don’t know. There’s not really a secret! It’s talking and listening, you know. Listening first and then not being afraid to ask questions. That’s really it. I mean I also have experience with sales in a former life, so that helps too.
11. What’s in the works for you in the near future?
With this, right now, this brand, The Chinatown Experiment, is an established brand a bit. You know, some people know it, but not everybody. But I think it doesn’t properly convey what we do. It was a great name to start, but I think that needs to change to convey everything that we do. We’re not just Chinatown anymore, we’re pop up architects.
12. Aside from your own, are there any upcoming events, shows, conferences, festivals, etc. in Vancouver that you’re excited about?
I really enjoy people who bring new things to Vancouver, so Brewery and the Beast comes to mind. It’s a big beer and meat festival. A few things I work on myself really excite me too.
Me :: What kinds of things?
I just did the first Film Feast. It’s a pop up dinner with Winner Winner, a group of three guys who work in restaurants in Vancouver. Basically we pair a foodie film with the food that’s being shown in the film. So you’re watching the film and eating the food that you’re seeing. The last movie was Tampopo which is a Japanese film about ramen. So we were serving ramen. We have a series of those coming up!
I also have an event coming up here (at Revolver Coffee) as well. It’s called Late Nite Art. For that, I do the food. We cover all the tables with paper and leave out art supplies. And first, everybody comes then they eat with a stranger then Julian Thomas, my co-organizer, starts facilitating by asking questions and everyone draws out their answers. It’s just a big dinner art party!
13. Can you tell me one silly, inspiring, embarrassing, or noteworthy story about when you were first starting out in your career? Any mishaps or interesting things that happened?
So the first dinner I did for the pop up I did at Chinatown, called ShwāyShwāy café. During the day we were open for coffee and tea and lunch plates and the lunch had hummus in it as well. And for dinner it was a seated dinner. But the problem with the Chinatown pop up is that it doesn’t have a kitchen, so I had to design the menu so that it would work there, but I wanted to serve warm food. So I did Moroccan tagine, which is made on this clay dish with a dome overtop and you put vegetables and sauce in it, then put it in the oven for three hours, and then you serve it. So, not having a kitchen there, I had to use my oven and a friend’s oven. During the dinner service I had to drive home pick up one, put it in the car, pick up another, put it in the car, and then come back and serve it. And, the timing worked out well, except that the first night I don’t know what happened with my oven, I mean it was cooked, but not fully cooked. So I’m serving all these people but I couldn’t sleep after that night. So I had to make up for it after that night. And luckily I had two more nights and hopefully made up for it and in the grand scheme of things people don’t hate me.
Also, on the third night actually, I was driving and my car ran out of gas. And so I sprinted home, grabbed my roommates car, left my car at the side of the road, and served the dish. So that was fun!
Oh my gosh! That’s quite the story. Love it!
So, that’s Yash with The Chinatown Experiment and The Midtown Experiment. If you want to learn more, head on over to one of their pop ups and say hi. They’ve got Citizen Grace clothing shop coming up in Midtown and a multi-media art installation, Terminal City Re-Wired, in Chinatown. Get on over there!
*** Vancouver Neatos is a weekly series where I interview neat people in Vancouver. If you know of someone doing something neat in Vancouver, email me their deets + I’ll add them to my list.