I went to Pop Up Grocer, where influencer-favorite foods like tinned fish cost $14, and it felt like TikTok came to life
Pop Up Grocer is a traveling market selling "new, better-for-you products," according to its site.
A permanent location opened in New York City's West Village on March 3.
From the aesthetically pleasing look to the delicious pastries, here's what it's like to visit.
A traveling pop-up grocery store that I've been seeing on social media found a permanent home in Manhattan.
I started noticing Pop Up Grocer on my Instagram feed around eight months ago. But before that, my swipes have been filled with aesthetically pleasing products that always intrigued me but rarely enough to make me purchase them online.
It wasn't until I saw Fishwife's canned smoked salmon — one of the first "tinned fish" brands I came across — in person at a shop in Hudson, New York, that I pulled out my wallet for what I knew as an Instagram brand (a brand I and many others have come to know through the platform, not one that's backed or owned by it).
When I saw foodies I follow filling up baskets at this traveling market that looked like it was designed to be shared, I couldn't wait for it to come to my city so I could go see these brands in person. Pop Up's website says it is "open for discovery," and that it carefully curates shelves (both tangible and virtual) to sell "new, better-for-you products."
Luckily for me, Pop Up Grocer opened its first permanent location in Manhattan's West Village on March 3 after exclusively operating as a pop-up shop since April 2019.
I hopped on the subway and went to check out the store for myself.
Pop Up Grocer occupies a triangle-shaped space on the corner of Minetta Street and Bleeker Street in the West Village.
To me, the location seems to make sense as I think about how much the area has become influencer central over the past few years.
The building itself looks good enough to make a TikTok about, and that's before you even step inside.
When I walked into the shop, I was greeted with a mild "hello" and left to explore on my own.
I was surprised that I wasn't given a rundown of the store when I walked in.
Embarrassingly, I was intimidated. The shelves were stocked, but sparsely, with only a few of each item. There were price tags on some things and not on others. Sections were labeled, and some were self-explanatory like "Fridge" and "Pet," while others were a little vaguer like "Boosters + Blends" and "Happy Hour."
Even though it can be annoying to be bombarded by a store employee, I felt like, in this situation, I would have appreciated a warm welcome with a brief breakdown of what I was stepping into — especially considering the shop was still in its first week of operation.
I walked around the 1,500-square-foot space to gather my bearings a bit, starting with the first section of shelves.
I walked counterclockwise around the space, observing the items on the shelves and recognizing around 90% of the products from Instagram and TikTok.
Slowly, I realized which items were where. The first groups I passed were home goods, body products, and pet supplies. They were on their own combined shelf in the front of the store, closest to the doorway.
The shelves held items like smiley-face oven mitts, skin-care products, and cat food.
Next, I walked past a seating area where a few customers were having coffee and making calls.
There were three, two-seater tables with a long banquette on one side and stools on the other.
A display board of Pop Up merch hung on one of the walls flanking the tables, while a shelf of magazines was on the other.
Continuing on around the perimeter, I came upon the refrigerator section.
Along with an aesthetically pleasing display of bright-yellow lemons on the top shelf, there were rows of dips, non-dairy milk, protein brownies, sausage, and greens.
The only brand I recognized right away was Bowery Farming — a company developing indoor farms to allow cities access to fresh produce — while the rest looked like the fun, colorful, trendy labels I've seen on social media.
Next came the pantry shelves, with pasta, oils, sauces, and tinned fish up first.
The top-shelf pastas and boxed mac-and-cheeses were contained in beautiful packaging.
Below them was a collection of items (sauce, olive oil, and more pasta) from the NYC Italian restaurant Rubirosa, and fancy-looking bottles of olive oil.
The next shelf down had the pastel-packed Siesta Co. tinned fish line including mussels, mackerel, and white tuna, along with Cabi soy sauce, miso, and yuzu vinegar, and Fly By Jing sauces and vinaigrette.
The bottom shelf held a variety of plant-based instant ramen from Immi.
More pantry products lined this section of the wall that was sandwiched between the refrigerator and the bathroom.
Above the flavored vinegar, seasonings, and boxes of bone broth was a collection of items from a celebrity-owned coffee brand.
The shop was touting Chamberlain Coffee, a coffee and matcha brand owned by influencer and mogul Emma Chamberlain.
Then I saw the checkerboard-covered entryway to the restrooms, which I thought felt very on-brand.
With the alternating pale-yellow and mirrored squares, this mini hallway looked like a perfect selfie opportunity. The detail made me think that this space was designed to be featured on TikTok, much like many of the products inside of it were.
On the other side of the restroom were more shelves that carried some pantry desserts and sweets.
There were cookies, chocolates, and other dessert-like items on this side of the wall. But they all still seemed like pantry items or throw-it-in-your-bag-as-a-snack treats.
Then I stepped in front of a freezer section situated next to a grouping labeled "puffs + crunch."
The frozen foods case consisted of healthy-looking versions of the pizza rolls, popcorn chicken, and freezer waffles I grew up knowing. There were also casseroles, ready-made meals, veggie burgers, and pints of ice cream on offer.
The "puffs + crunch" shelves looked like the popcorn and chips aisle of a grocery store. Pop Up was selling different versions of chips (corn and potato included), dehydrated fruits, nuts, and popcorn.
Following the curve of the wall, I found myself standing in front of more seemingly niche sections of elixirs, health-boosters, cereal, and "bites + chews."
There was a "happy hour" section that featured a wide variety of non-alcoholic beverages and elixirs, shelves of healthy-looking fruit chews, and boxes of cereal that drew my aesthetic-seeking eye just as Kellogg's does children's.
In this mix was also an entire section of "mood boosters" and supplements — I saw a lot of mushroom-focused products during my visit, one was a mouth spray that cost $27.
Just before I finished my lap, I saw a refrigerator with some cold drinks available for purchase.
Some of them were offered on the "happy hour" shelves, like Al's non-alcoholic beer and the canned non-alcoholic cocktails from Parch, and others were unique to this case, like cans of Psychedelic Water and Phyll smoothies.
At the center of it all was a cafe station offering coffee, matcha, and pastries.
There was a case of what looked like freshly-baked goodies from Librae Bakery including vegan pesto focaccia ($12), sage shortbread ($4), and slices of Arabic coffee loaf ($6), among others.
The team was also serving up Chamberlain Coffee (drip coffee was $3 for a small and $3.50 for a large) and matcha ($4.50). Alt milks cost $1 extra.
After I finished my self-guided tour, I decided to test out the cafe.
I ordered the pistachio orange croissant ($8) and a matcha latte. I'm not really a matcha fan, but they had no decaf coffee options. I thought the matcha was fine, though.
The croissant was so ornate that I was skeptical of how good it would be — but I was pleasantly surprised. The pastry itself was flaky and fresh tasting, and the pistachio spread was absolutely delicious. It was just the right amount of sticky for my taste, and boasted generous chunks of the nut. The flavor profile was mostly pistachio, somewhat almond paste-y, and delightfully bright from the orange citrus.
The stripe of pistachio filling that was draped over the top of the pastry was toasty and light. It had a fluffiness that the portion on the inside of the pastry didn't have, which provided a welcome textural variation while remaining consistent in flavor.
I'm not usually one to spend more than $4 on a croissant, but in an epic surprise to myself, I'd come back for this one.
As I wandered, I saw that some items had price stickers on them while others didn't, which made things a little confusing.
I was happy to find price stickers on some items, like a $14 can of fish, a $10 rice and beans mixture, and $15 soy sauce. But many of the items on the shelves had no tags during my visit.
There were small QR codes on the shelves where you could learn more about the products. I scanned them figuring they would show prices, but I was wrong.
I loathe having to ask how much something costs, especially if I'm not going to buy it. I didn't want to keep walking up to the register to ask an employee how much countless items were going for in this store, so I limited that request to just two items that I was considering purchasing for myself.
I ended up inquiring about a $10 can of beans — which I put back after walking around with it for seven minutes and then staring at it as I ate my croissant — and then a $20 food magazine. I panic-purchased the magazine because I felt anxious asking how much something was and then putting it down ... again. (It was an investment piece and now serves as coffee table art.)
While I won't be making this part of my monthly grocery run, it was fun to immerse myself in the shop and get to hold some of the items I've only seen on my phone.
No, I won't be coming back to stock up on "breakfast-ish" items, $14 pantry staples, or $27 mood boosters.
However, it's nice to know that if I ever do want to try any of those products I keep seeing on my feed, I can just take a trip uptown instead of spending money on shipping or having to buy a four-pack of something I don't even know if I like yet.
Sure, shopping online is great. But I prefer having something in my hands before swiping my card for it — it's just how I operate. So for someone like me, this Pop Up Grocer experience is wonderful. It's giving consumers a chance to interact with a product before deciding to spend money — sometimes a lot of money — on it.
Being inside Pop Up Grocer made me feel like I was living inside TikTok or my Instagram explore page. It was fun! And if I find myself craving a pastry and walking past this corner store, I'll probably duck in for that pistachio croissant, no matter how much it costs.
Read the original article on Insider