Designer and UGK co-founder Michael Sparks pictured in Manchester, where Pop Up Revolution launches Sept. 19. (Photo by Jay Paul)
In the course of one lunch meeting, Micheal Sparks fields two phone calls, says his hellos to three separate parties in the restaurant — singing “Happy Birthday to You” to one of them — and pitches me a story on his friend’s wine business before picking up his cell phone once more and calling her to say I’ll be getting in touch shortly. He’s a hustler, baby.
As the co-founder of The Underground Kitchen, Richmond’s pop-up dining club, and especially as the founder and funder of the upcoming Pop Up Revolution — a nine-day gastronomical and retail event corresponding with September’s UCI Road World Championships — he’s had to hustle hard.
“It’s months and months of travel, not for just me but for freelancers, designers, all my contacts,” he says of Pop Up Revolution. “I’ve called in every favor that everybody’s ever owed me since 1983 when I graduated high school; all my friends in New York, the heads of fashion companies, everybody.”
These favors range from putting in a word with prospective event sponsors to selling goods at the Plant Zero warehouse in Manchester, where the Revolution will hold a 70 to 30 ratio of Virginia-to-national food, beverage and fashion vendors from Sept.19 to 27. In addition to those purveyors, the event will offer a 25-seat tasting table with daily cooking demos starting at $45 — Osaka Sushi & Steak, My Noodle & Bar and Petrossian Caviar are already on the roster; a daily History Happy Hour from 5 to 7 p.m. in collaboration with the American Civil War Museum; and a children’s cooking course via Multiple Me and Art Works.
And because it wouldn’t be a Micheal Sparks production without The Underground Kitchen, Pop Up Revolution will include nine days of UGK dinners and brunches from local and national chefs, each dinner offering one seating at 5:30 p.m. and another at 8:30 p.m. According to Sparks, guests will find not just a meal, but an experience with music and video projections in a private section of Pop Up Revolution’s 8,000-square-foot tent.
“The idea behind it is having that one-space controlled environment and each night it’s going to be really, really different,” Sparks says. “The décor will change, the chairs will change, the linens will change. It’s going to be like Cirque du Soleil meets dinner party, and everything from the food to the furniture to the music will be curated for that particular chef.”
For the Revolution’s UGK events alone, Sparks has hustled his way to a lineup including Michelle Williams of Richmond Restaurant Group, Giuseppe Scafidi of Deco Ristorante, Bob Hart of From Virginia with Love, Carly Herring of Buddy's Place, Giovanna Delli Compagni of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City, plus a few more surprises. He’s also booked Matthew Tlusty of Julep’s New Southern Cuisine and Michael Hall of The 2300 Club, who’ll each be cooking a Southern Sunday gospel brunch complete with gospel choir. Tickets are available at $140 per event through theundergroundkitchen.org, though diners won’t know which chefs will be cooking on the night of their meal. Entry to the Pop Up Revolution pavilion is free, but requires registration at popup-revolution.com.
The original concept — planned since September of 2013 — was a partnership between Sparks, the City of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University, slated for downtown, much closer to the UCI course. Downtown will still be home to Richmond 2015’s FanFest in the Greater Richmond Convention Center; in nearby Shockoe Bottom, the city will offer a one-day fan celebration at Main Street Station, and you’ll find a beer garden at 17th Street Farmers Market, courtesy of Enrichmond. But while these will host food and vendors, none will offer extensive dining programming.
When city and VCU funding for Sparks’ original concept fell through this past January, he moved the project to Manchester and personally invested between $180,000 and $200,000, by his estimation. But according to Sparks, who as of now has recouped over 80 percent of his backing, it was a necessary gamble he hopes will pay off.
“It’s what you have to do,” he says. “You have to believe in the dream yourself before somebody believes in you.”
Guests at Pop Up Revolution's UGK dinners will receive goodie bags filled with local snacks and gifts. (Photo by Mark Remes)