Pop-up Kitchen Serves as Proving Ground for Alumnus

Joe Festa ’18 is one of the creators of Proof Kitchen.

Joe Festa ’18 is one of the creators of Proof Kitchen.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

Prove it

It’s a challenge issued to every entrepreneur. Show us that your idea will work.

Proof Kitchen, an Erie pop-up restaurant, is how one alumnus proved that he can make money serving a weekly gourmet brunch. Pop-ups are temporary restaurants that operate in a variety of venues, including homes, festivals, and established restaurants that allow pop-up chefs to use their facilities during off hours.

Joe Festa ’18 was a student at Behrend majoring in Project and Supply Chain Management and cooking at a downtown Erie eatery when he learned about pop-ups. He thought it would be a great way to get in the game with a minimal investment of cash and equipment.

“I liked the concept and thought: Let me figure out how to do this,” Festa said. “I started operating a little to-go operation out of my apartment. I made bread and had pulled pork and homemade chips.”

It was a valuable learning experience for the budding entrepreneur.

“I learned that I didn’t want to operate anything out of my home and that I needed help,” he said.

Shortly after, he met Eli Kerr, a student at Gannon University, and found the partner he needed to handle the front end of the business while Festa ran the kitchen.

“Eli’s personality was a good complement to mine, and I knew if we teamed up we could make a pop-up work,” Festa said. Festa formed a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) for the restaurant, and he and Kerr started networking—Business 101—to put together a team and find a location. A few months later, they were buying plates and planning a menu for their first brunch at La Bella Bistro in Erie.

It was meant to be a summer gig, but it was so successful that Festa and friends are still serving brunch every Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

“I set aside $1,000 to get started,” Festa said. “I purchased $250 worth of plates because I had learned how important they are in food presentation. Other than that, our largest expense was, and still is, ingredients.”

Festa’s brunch is not just omelets and OJ. 

“It’s a four-course dining experience,” he said. “We mean for people to linger and enjoy this brunch. They can even bring a bottle of champagne or wine, as it’s a BYOB restaurant.”

The ingredients are all fresh, mostly local, and everything is cooked from scratch by Festa and another chef, Ella Julian. The menu varies from week to week but includes culinary creations such as red velvet pancakes, peanut butter fluff sandwiches, eggs Benedict, and breakfast hash.

“For the hash, we take a whole slab of bacon, cube it, add potatoes, garlic butter, poblano peppers, pickled onions, smoked Gouda, and cheese sauce,” he said. “People love it.”

They must. Proof fills its chairs every Sunday with diners who pay $25 per person for the brunch. Festa is quick to give credit to his Proof coworkers. “We have as much fun cooking and serving as our customers do eating.”

Teambuilding is a skill Festa honed in his coursework at the Black School of Business. “We did a lot of group projects, and I learned a lot about how to work with people,” he said. “It really prepared me to lead the group in a way that allows everyone to have input and feel valued.”

Want proof? Proof Kitchen serves brunch every Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at 802 West 18th Street in Erie. Contact them through Facebook, Instagram, or at prooferie.com to make reservations, which are required.