By Catherine Cheney
Supper clubs and pop-up restaurants cater to those who seek a creative and exclusive culinary experience, and throughout Berlin, groups are gathering at underground locations, cooking in swanky studio spaces and wining and dining with people they are meeting for the first time.
And as the trend takes off, Klaus Peter Kofler, founder of Pret A Diner, is looking to stand out among his peers by creating an unparalleled epicurean experience, drawing on the pop-up dining idea, but also combining it with "a playful harmony of design, food, art, creativity, and nightlife."
He plans to take pop-up dining to new heights -- literally.
Just in time for the International Motor Show and the Frankfurt Book Fair, Pret A Diner transformed the top two floors of a Frankfurt skyscraper into "The Tree House," serving its first set of customers on Thursday night.
Claiming to be "the world's highest pop-up restaurant ever," the establishment also promises an experience "close to the stars," both because the building stretches 135 meters into the sky, and because the event will feature foods from chefs with Michelin star ratings.
While Pret A Diner has offered dining experiences everywhere from the former Berlin Mint to secret hideouts on the banks of the Spree River's canals, Germany's financial capital is an unexpected location. "We would never have started this project in Frankfurt," said Kofler, even though the opening of The Tree House is a homecoming for the German caterer, who grew up in the nearby town of Bad Homburg.
"In Frankfurt, you don't get that sexiness that's important," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "The only two places where you can create something, and then you go somewhere else afterward and people find it cool because of where it came from, are Berlin and London."
The owner of another Berlin supper club, who asked to be referred to only as Chiara Z. in order to preserve the secrecy of the dinners she hosts at her home each month, said that while supper clubs and pop-up restaurants come from similar concepts, they offer two very different experiences.
"In a supper club, it is private, and so there is only one table that is shared with guests, so it is an experience about conversation and about meeting new people," she said. "And if you go to a pop-up restaurant, you are looking for the glamour and the excitement of being part of an exclusive event."
The supper club owner said she plans to keep the dinners intimate and within her home, partly because the more ambitious events get, the more they can become about the location and not the people or the food. But, she explained, creative takes on cuisine are becoming more competitive, and each innovation encourages other new ideas like The Tree House.
No Second Chance
The Pret A Diner website, where people can "request" an invitation to restaurant, features a green wooden house atop a spiralling staircase overlooking the hustle and bustle of a big city.
Kofler has brought in a team of acclaimed chefs, interior designers, and artists to transform the Nextower building into "a nest full of bridges and leaves." The office space has been converted into a restaurant, art gallery, bar, and terrace with a view of the Frankfurt skyline. "You wouldn't expect to come into a skyscraper, go up the elevator, and enter a different world," he said, when asked about the appeal of the space.
The menu also brings something unexpected.
Matthias Schmidt, a young chef with one Michelin star, will present guests with dishes like "A parsley root hopefully finds its calf between the bushes and the creek," an entrée of veal, parsley root, and char eggs. Sushi chef Oliver Lange, also known as Ollysan, will blend ox, carrots, and celery with his dish "Wild ox performs its teriyaki ballet together with a carrot orchestra."
As the staff prepared the final touches before the big reveal, Kofler told SPIEGEL ONLINE the pressure was on to get it right. "What you normally have when you open a restaurant is two to three weeks when people don't expect everything to go well," he said. "If you only have a few weeks you are open, it has to work. There is no second chance."
With the help of its web presence, including a Facebook page, Pret A Diner has already gotten 3,000 people to sign up to The Tree House experience before it shuts down on Oct. 15.
Discussing how exclusive dining establishments can succeed with publicity while maintaining mystery, Kofler said "it doesn't help when people hear about it when it is already over," adding that Facebook tends to bring in "a very trendy, open-minded crowd."
On Wednesday, Pret A Diner offered its Facebook fans a glimpse of the space and its unexpected elements: chefs tend to hollowed-out eggs in bright yellow cartons, an art collection includes a canvas of Marilyn Monroe with two Mickey Mouse heads painted on her chest, and of course, painted trees cover the walls.
While the experience certainly differs from an Italian dinner for eight with Chiara Z., she, as well as other entrepreneurs in this ever-expanding industry, will certainly keep an eye on The Tree House and what Pret A Diner has in store next.
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