Anchorage’s first pop-up restaurant has deflated.
Harvest Restaurant announced on its Facebook page that it would be closing up shop after a mere two months in business.
In a Facebook post, the restaurant’s owners -- Nathan Dolphin-Chavie and Josh Plesh -- said they came to the restaurant’s location Wednesday to find a sign on the door from the municipal health department saying the building was closed and could not be used to serve food.
In the post, the pair said they thought they had valid permits needed to serve food through their sub-lease, though that was later found to be incorrect.
In a phone interview Friday, Dolphin-Chavie said he and Plesh had believed their license to operate was in good standing and that they would be able to operate the restaurant as a private event under the catering license provided by their building lease, the former Café Savannah location on Fifth Avenue.
That’s not the case, according to Tony Barrett, environmental health program manager for the Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services. Barrett said the arrangement was impossible, as restaurants cannot operate under the permits of other restaurants. Harvest had no permits of any kind, he said, though he noted that that could have been due to a misunderstanding.
Permits indicate the restaurants are operating safely, Barrett said. The permitting process includes food safety inspections and documenting that the restaurants are following regulations.
Harvest had not been inspected, Barrett said, since the owners had not applied for a permit. The health department only learned the restaurant was out of compliance when a vendor at last week’s Salmon Daze event in Anchorage indicated that some of their food would be catered by Harvest.
Barrett said in order to reopen, the business could have acquired a prorated permit covering half of the year. It would have cost $305, Barrett said, and based on the existing kitchen space could have been processed quickly. There is usually a seven-day waiting period to get the permit but even that could have been expedited for $61 more.
“Tickets” for a six-course meal at the restaurant were $95.
Barrett said the owners indicated to him they were not interested in obtaining the permit.
Dolphin-Chavie wouldn’t say whether the restaurant would reopen.
“There are a lot of answers we don’t have and a lot of flux going on. We’re really not sure what’s going to happen,” he said. “I’m feeling everything out right now.”
How they will communicate also remains unclear. The owners said they would be shutting down the restaurant’s Facebook page and website after being “watched very closely by the health department.”
“I don’t need this Big Brother hovering above me watching my every movement,” Dolphin-Chavie said. “I don’t want to get into more trouble than I already have.”
Barrett said the health department had looked at Harvest’s Facebook page only to try to get in touch with the restaurant owners. He said they don’t routinely monitor restaurant pages.
“We have an obligation to inform people if they are operating illegally and let them know that they are,” Barrett said. “It was the only way to look them up when we don’t have a permit.”
Harvest made its mark as the first pop-up restaurant of its kind in Anchorage, serving high-end, creative food marked by an ever-changing menu made up of mostly locally sourced ingredients. The idea was to operate the restaurant on a month-to-month basis in a minimalist space in downtown Anchorage.
Pop-ups aren’t new across the United States, though they often fly under the radar. While the cost of permits is not a primary business concern, the cost of coming into compliance with the permits can be. Barrett said operators must have approved equipment in their kitchens, and those costs can be steep. Not being in compliance can mean safety risks for customers.
“It’s not safe but it’s also not fair to other businesses that are compliant,” Barrett said.