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3. The Real-Estate Market May Be Punishing, But It Is Also Liberating


Illustration by Jean Jullien  

3c. Pop-Ups Can Actually Settle Down
By Vicky Gan

Ten stools, two induction burners, and a quarter-sheet-tray oven—that’s all José Ramírez-Ruiz and Pam Yung started out with at Chez José, the pop-up prototype of their vegetable-focused chef’s counter, Semilla. Launched in May 2012, the weekly dinner series took place after-hours in the erstwhile Williamsburg coffee shop Whirlybird, whose owner charged them only $200 a night, a rate Yung says is “unheard of” in New York. But by spring 2013, the couple were on the lookout for more spacious digs. Restaurateur Joe Carroll (Fette Sau, St. Anselm) had met Ramírez-Ruiz years ago, in talks for a Puerto Rican restaurant that never came to fruition, and now that his Lake Trout fish shack had shuttered, he was in a position to offer it to them. The chefs relocated Chez José largely unaltered in August 2013, initially paying a per diem rate. Carroll hoped from the start that they’d open a full-service restaurant but gave them time to feel out the partnership; after less than a year, Ramírez-Ruiz and Yung took him up on the offer. The chefs spearheaded the space’s transformation into Semilla, which debuted in October, with Carroll maintaining majority ownership and handling the administrative back end. “I really wanted it to be their place,” Carroll said.