It’s Friday night and a low beat from inside Jupiter Bar melds with the sound of feet sticking to the floor. At the front counter, Situ Tacos founder Lupe Flores gives her crunchy tacos a second fry. Earlier, she stuffed fillings into hundreds of tortillas, then sewed up the top of each one with a pair of toothpicks to create a small, flavor-filled packet.
Over on Beacon Hill, Homer sous chef Sara Eveland reports for duty, but she’s already put in a full workday. She set her alarm at 4:30 to get up, bake, and deliver enormous snickerdoodles and lemon poppyseed crinkles for her fledgling business, My Friend’s Cookies. After a morning spent mixing dough while also watching his two young kids, Cam Hanin unpacks his car and readies his Guerilla Pizza Kitchen popup for a night of slinging 90 naturally fermented pies at Fast Penny Spirits in Queen Anne.
These are but three of the many individuals fueling Seattle’s current abundance of popups, Instagram businesses, and myriad other food situations too nascent to categorize. Many of these operations arose during pandemic shutdowns, but others who have been at it for a while find their customers newly conversant in limited hours and online ordering. Each business model will likely adapt and evolve by the time you read this, but collectively this energy is sure to shape the next chapter of a food scene still clawing its way back from the pandemic brink.
Before Covid, Lupe Flores tended bar and drummed in three Seattle bands—livelihoods not particularly suited to remote work. The idea of sitting at home collecting unemployment “made me lose my mind,” she recalls. Flores started making crunchy tacos the way her Lebanese Mexican grandmother taught her as a child. Situ means “grandma” in Lebanese Arabic, and Lupe’s situ scorned store-bought shells. She fried her tortillas then stuffed them with fillings drawn from her relatives, like hushwe-style beef cooked in browned butter. Then she secured the top with a pair of toothpicks, and pan-fried the whole thing again.
Flores makes hers the same way, with a few updates: a deep fryer, a vegan cauliflower filling so spicy and satisfying it rivals the meat. She started outside of Tractor Tavern, then moved to the Jupiter, giving people a reason to visit even when live shows were on hiatus.
This summer, she finally returned to performing, but her inadvertent taco business had built such a following, she couldn’t dismantle it. “I’ve explored the idea of a brick-and-mortar,” she says. But with the amount of tours and shows in her life, “that doesn’t make any goddamn sense.” Along the way, she added nachos to the menu, then acquired a “badass” three-woman staff who will keep frying up Situ Tacos at the Jupiter. After an adulthood spent bucking authority, Flores is still surprised she owns a legitimate business. Then she thinks of her situ. “This came from my culture,” she says. “Even though she’s been dead for 20 years, it feels like she would be proud.” The current Jupiter schedule is the closest Situ Tacos comes to a long-term plan. “I might hang it up one day, but I don’t think so.”
Ask any adult to spread a hand out wide and you’ll approximate the size of Sara Eveland’s cookies. She revels in classic chocolate chip and snickerdoodles, but also “more twisty or updated versions,” like strawberries and cream made with white chocolate, almonds, and flecks of dehydrated fruit. Like Flores, she founded My Friend’s Cookies through happenstance, but plans to carry it on.
Last spring, a cook buddy of Eveland’s launched Good Shape Pizza, one of the free-form pizza businesses that proved a rare 2020 bright spot. His concise menu needed some sort of dessert. Eveland, then the chef at Sunny Hill, offered to make him some cookies. Next came a few bake sales and some wholesale business. Now, on days when she doesn’t work at Homer (and, increasingly, on days she does) Eveland spends the morning baking. Then come deliveries, her favorite part of the job. Instilling joy from the confines of a restaurant kitchen doesn’t feel as impactful as handing someone a box of baked goods on their front porch. “This year was hard for everyone,” she says. “No one’s mad at cookies.”
A year ago, Eveland had zero designs on a baking career. It’s a mental shift, she allows, but seems to offer a faster path toward calling her own career shots than the traditional restaurant route. “I’ve worked for a long time, but I’ve never really done anything for myself.”
Delivering his own vision, unfiltered, was Cam Hanin’s goal when he founded Guerilla Pizza Kitchen in June 2019, long before terms like “social distance” and “vaxxed” became everyday vernacular. Naturally leavened pizza was a rarity then, too. His popup wasn’t born of pandemic unemployment, but the months he spent running a pay-what-you-can community kitchen with a few other like-minded chefs sharpened his vision for it.
Hanin has a food truck in the works, does regular appearances at distilleries and breweries, and arranges the occasional chef collaboration like a Japanese-inspired “pizza-kaya” with chef Mutsuko Soma at her sake bar, Hannyatou. He has no idea where Guerilla Pizza Kitchen will be a year from now. “But in, like, 10 years? Man, I just want a cool little worker-
owned co-op pizza place.”
Business models outside brick-and-mortar make a livelier food scene, yes, but Hanin sees value beyond a landscape full of singular pizza and tacos. The current spate of food trucks, popups, cottage bakeries, and so-called residencies in established kitchens offers opportunities for chefs who don’t have connections or ample lines of credit. “It’s crucial to allow everybody their chance to cook the food that they want to cook,” he says. Which benefits all of us, cooks and customers, alike.