Health Department shuts down local pop up shop, Olympic Grove

(Photo: Advertiser file photo)

The health department has shut down a new pop-up concept that involves yard games, beer and pizza-by-the-slice. Olympic Grove could be up and running again as soon as April, however, with the help of crowd-funded donations made by those who support the concept.

Stephen Verret, the creative mind behind Olympic Grove, says he is struggling to operate legally because there is no designated permit for a pop-up concept like his. Many cities, such as San Francisco, offer permits specifically for pop-up restaurants.

“It’s made us realize how behind we are as a city,” Verret says. “I believe we have the potential to make things happen, but it’s going to take people willing to push the system to grow because without that I have a feeling it will stay pretty behind in the times.”

But the problem isn’t lack of a specialty permit, according to Samantha R. Faulkner, a press officer for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. It’s that nobody with Olympic Grove applied for a permit in the first place.

“What he needs is a mobile unit permit,” Faulkner says. “It’s designed for food trucks, but we have used it flexibly with pop-up restaurants like this.”

Verret partnered with chef Jeremy Conner to bring Olympic Grove to his hometown after seeing similar concepts while traveling and living on the West Coast.

After the first event on Dec. 5, however, Verret was contacted by staff at the health department. He couldn’t serve food from a tent.

“We had seen people serve that way at festivals, so we thought we’d give that a try,” Verret says. “But being that we aren’t a festival, that isn’t a legal way to serve.”

Instead of serving pizza, the second and most recent Olympic Grove pop-up on Jan. 9 featured eats from the Live Action Deli food truck.

Verret was contacted again by the health department after that event. He couldn’t serve alcohol from a tent.

About 300 people attended the January pop-up event, and Verret has had to respond to countless inquiries about when the next event will be.

“It has really delayed our growth and held us back from giving something to a city that is obviously wanting this to happen,” he says. “(The support is) extremely encouraging but also frustrating that we are currently getting delayed because we know the people want it to happen right now.”

To operate legally, Olympic Grove must meet the same standards as any food trailer or restaurant.

It must have four walls, a serving window that can close where food is being served, wipeable countertops, dish-washing and hand-washing sinks, potable water supply and a waste water storage system, among other requirements.

“After several months of research and design, we have come up with plans that we think will be absolutely beautiful,” Verret wrote on his GoFundMe campaign page for Olympic Grove. “We are very excited to build this trailer and need your help in any way possible, but mainly we are looking for help financially as of now. We are going to be building this entire trailer by ourselves. Every cut, nail, paint will be done by us, and we love that.”

A Go Fund Me page has raised more than $1,200 of the $5,000 goal.

“I cannot believe the kind of response we’ve received,” Verret says. “I cannot thank those who have donated their hard-earned money to help us reach our goal and ultimately revive this dream we have worked so hard to make a reality.”

Verret has purchased a trailer and hopes to bring Olympic Grove back to its home at 404 Saint Landry St. by the end of April.

With the new mobile kitchen, Verret plans to expand Olympic Grove’s pizza, beer and yard games to festivals, farmers markets and private events.

“We will continue to host our pop-up events in the Saint Streets as well as all over the city,” Verret says. “We’ve got some great opportunities coming up once we get this thing built that we can’t wait to participate in.”

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