Resto pop-ups a trend to lure customers with nostalgia

The cast of 'Seinfeld' - Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards. STREVT

TORONTO – This summer in Toronto, Seinfeld fans will be able to dine at replica of Monk’s Cafe, while Friends enthusiasts will have the chance to get their caffeine fix at Central Perk.

The iconic fictional hangout re-creations are part of a trend as entrepreneurs and restaurateurs evoke nostalgia to lure in customers – a marketing ploy often used in retail.

“If everybody else is doing that, why not restaurants?” said Carol Wong-Li, a senior analyst of Canadian lifestyle and leisure at Mintel.

The entertainment industry has long used nostalgia, she said. Disney recently revamped the Star Wars saga, which has proved to be a boon for Cineplex, while Netflix has revamped beloved shows like Full House and Arrested Development.

For eateries, this strategy helps mitigate risk, said Wong-Li, as it provides them with a built-in customer base from the cult shows’ fandom.

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READ MORE: First Seinfeld, now Friends pop-up bar coming to Toronto

“Seinfeld is just this cultural phenomenon,” said Mackenzie Keast, co-organizer of the upcoming Seinfeld pop-up diner in Toronto.

He and his three, fellow Seinfeld-loving friends plan to pay homage to the show by serving foods central to plot lines, like chocolate babka, muffin tops and Kenny Rogers’s chicken.

After Keast and his friends announced their plans on Facebook, nearly 30,000 expressed interest in attending the launch party July 15.

“To enter the world of Seinfeld a bit, I think, is really exciting for a lot of people,” he said.

Fans of Friends seem driven by a similar desire. They’ve flocked to replica Central Perk pop-ups in England and New York.

Now, one is set for a brief stint in Toronto this summer.

Joshua Botticelli and two of his friends planned to open it for one day in June. But, after more than 50,000 people said on Facebook they wanted or planned to go, the trio decided to extend its run to at least three days.

“I think it just makes everyone remember those good old days, and they want to experience that in person,” said Botticelli.

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READ MORE: Seinfeld-themed pop-up bar coming to Toronto

If all those prospective customers do show up to immerse themselves in these TV set replicas, it can pay off financially.

People are more likely to loosen their purse strings when feeling nostalgic, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Keast said he will consider making the mock Monk’s a permanent fixture if demand stays strong during its planned four- to six-month run.

But nostalgia alone won’t bring repeat customers to these types of joints, warns Wong-Li.

“If the food isn’t good enough, people aren’t going to come back,” she said. “The nostalgia will only carry you so far.”

Still, it’s possible to make the formula work.

The Lockhart Cocktail Bar, dubbed the Harry Potter bar, opened last September in Toronto. It pays tribute to J.K. Rowling’s books in its name, decor and menu offerings.

This strategy can also be a boost to the media companies that own the copyright to these shows, said Bruce Starr, a founding partner of BMF Media Group.

Licensing such eateries can create a new revenue stream at a time when people aren’t buying DVDs and watching cable, he said. It can also arouse the interest of a younger demographic, he said.

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Warner Brothers licensed the rights for mock Central Perks in the British cities of Liverpool and Chester, as well as New York, ahead of the 20th anniversary of Friends.

However, Botticelli is not seeking a licence for his pop-up. Neither is Keast.

Botticelli said his endeavour will be a parody and he is working with a lawyer to ensure the pop-up will meet those guidelines. A similar parody pop-up, a Saved By the Bell diner not affiliated with the show’s copyright holder, is set to open in Chicago for the month of June.

Keast, meanwhile, said his diner will only be inspired by the show, but will have its own name and identity.

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