Feature: The Ups and Downs of the Pop-Up Grind in Providence

How three dining concepts grew from borrowed kitchens into their own brick-and-mortar eateries


The late afternoon sun streamed through five honey bear jars lined up along the windowsill at Irregardless Biscuit, the West End’s latest place to be, and cast a golden glow on a series of framed Archie comics on the wall, including coveted issues featuring The Ramones on the covers. James Dean, who co-owns the hot spot with Joe Hafner, says he’s the Ramones fan, but they both love Archie. “If you put the two of us in a blender, this place is what you’d get,” jokes Hafner, referring to the decor that somehow leans both retro and modern, spiced up by a southern twist.

Irregardless Biscuit, which slings sandwiches on authentic Southern biscuits, started as a pop-up experiment out of the kitchen at The Tailor Shop, a fully equipped kitchen that was missing only a biscuit cutter, which Dean was glad to furnish.

“During the pandemic, I was bored out of my mind,” says Dean, who also owns The Slow Rhode with partners Patrick Lowney and Patsy Wilson. When restaurants pivoted to takeout in 2020, he saw an opportunity to try something new. The North Carolina native had been baking biscuits for friends and family using his grandmother’s recipe for years, and he noticed a dearth of simple Southern cooking in Providence. So once a month, he started selling his biscuit sandwiches to eager customers. His growing popularity eventually propelled him to pop up every weekend, so he took the next step by partnering up with his long-time friend Hafner and the two of them started looking for a space of their own. 

When the owner of the popular breakfast haunt Kitchen passed away in 2022, Dean and Hafner took over the intimate spot, and after eight months of renovation, opened Irregardless Biscuit’s doors on March 1, 2024. “When we opened, we had a line around the block,” says Hafner, and Erin Richer, the restaurant’s head baker, had to ramp up production quickly.

Dean says, “In our pop-up spot, we were selling 200 biscuits a day. Now we sell 500 and could sell more.” The secret to the biscuits’ popularity is the flour, which Dean imports from North Carolina. “It comes from a winter wheat, so it’s a little softer, and the mill I use sources from one farm, so the product is consistent,” Dean explains.

The pop-up model worked well as Dean experimented with the concept. “I think pop-ups let you explore your passion or something you could get more passionate about without a ton of investment. But the more you invest, the more you get out of it, and the more popular you get, the more passionate you get.” And the duo’s passion extends to the area as well. “We’re nice to our neighbors and we’re having a good time,” says Hafner.

Similar to Dean, Brandon Teachout and his former partner, Rhonda Dudek, were toying with a restaurant concept when the pandemic hit. In late 2019, he started his French dip pop-up, called Dip Dips, and hosted a couple of successful events before everything ground to a halt. But when outdoor dining was allowed in the summer, he started a weekly residency with Tiny Bar in the Jewelry District. “We were nimble and mobile and able to set up in any place that had a patio,” says Teachout. “It’s strange to say, but the timing was great. When people saw that we were providing something for them to do outside, they got excited.”    

Teachout built momentum using social media. “I’ve spent my career working in Rhode Island restaurants, so we had industry friends behind us reposting our posts and keeping the hype train going.” For the next two years, Dip Dips rode that train, showing up at different breweries every week. “We’d load it up, set it up, break it down, take it back, wash everything – it was a grind for sure and the workload wasn’t sustainable,” says Teachout.

To get out from under that grind, Teachout formed a partnership with Moniker Brewery and after popping up for a while with his own tables and tents, floated the idea of purchasing a food truck and setting up exclusively in the beer garden. Moniker immediately agreed. “We had great friends hosting us, and being there weekly was a unique way to connect with guests who have become friends,” says Teachout.

About a year after his residency at Moniker began, a nearby space became available, so Teachout took over the building where, in Rhode Island parlance, Bucktown used to be, and started serving diner-style burgers from its kitchen. “It’s a very special little building tucked away in the West End,” says Teachout. “The space, the neighborhood, and the building informed everything we were going to do with the space.”

He called his new spot There, There and if the name makes you feel soothed, that’s by design. “Hospitality is number one with us,” explains Teachout. He says his philosophy is, “We don’t know what’s going on with you out there, but you’re here now, so we’ll take care of you and hopefully send you out into the world in a better place.” And it’s no coincidence that his restaurant shares a name with his favorite Radiohead song.

Teachout calls the pop-up to brick-and-mortar journey a wild ride. “I wouldn’t change it, but I wouldn’t recommend it,” he says with a laugh. “It looks like a low cost of entry, but it can be taxing in other ways. Some days the bank account would be hovering around zero and we’d depend on the next week to pull us through. But no matter if we were experiencing highs or lows, the community always rallied around us, thankfully.”

For Rhode Island native Eric Brown, who graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 2011, his culinary pop-up journey started in Chicago. But as it tends to do to anyone who leaves its borders, Rhode Island pulled him right back, this time with his wife, Sarah Watts.

Shortly after Brown and Watts returned, he did a pop-up at The Dean and was invited into a long-term residency, which he accepted under the name Thick Neck. “When we were invited in, the kitchen had a stove, a fryer, and a couple of refrigeration units. But there were no tongs, for example,” Brown says describing the “mad dash” that ensued as he tried to outfit the kitchen. “Luckily, I have a history of jamming my car full of crates of plates and
induction burners and popping up on the south side of Chicago, so I’m no stranger to MacGyvering a dining experience.”

During his residency, his slapped-together kitchen became a well-oiled machine, which gave Brown time to learn about local taste buds. “There was a huge learning curve for us in terms of understanding the expectations and demands of the Providence dining scene. In the first couple of months, we definitely had a couple of dishes on the menu that were unsuccessful, so I tweaked and pivoted until I figured out what people would respond to,” he explains.

Meanwhile, Brown and Watts were dreaming of a restaurant of their own. “At The Dean, we were operating under the premise of presenting the best version of what we are doing in hopes of attracting the right person who could help us find a more permanent home,” Brown says. And that’s exactly what happened. “There’s a building in our neighborhood that we’d drive by three times a day. We used to say, ‘We could do something so cool in there if we got it.’” As luck would have it, the space was becoming available, and when one of their contacts gave them the opportunity to look at it, Brown and Watts snapped it up.

The duo is preparing to open Frank and Laurie’s, named after Brown’s grandparents, in the former Rebelle Artisan Bagels location, in late spring. “There are so many amazing places to have dinner in Providence, but there aren’t many full-service options during the day. I thought a lunch spot would bring something special to the city.”

Frank and Laurie’s will offer lunch service five days a week with a menu full of comfort food. “But,” Brown cautions, “if I get a text from a farm that has a glut of weird squash, I want to say, ‘give me 30 pounds of it.’ So in that way, we’ll keep the spirit, the whim, and the inventiveness we cultivated at Thick Neck alive.”


Frank and Laurie’s

110 Doyle Avenue,


Irregardless Biscuit

94 Carpenter Street,


There, There

471 West Fountain Street



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