Crackbird: The tweet-to-eat Temple Bar pop-up restaurant that’s all gone on the credit card
“This is on a credit card,” says Joe Macken, owner of Rathmines restaurant Jo’Burger, of his strictly temporary new Dublin chicken eaterie. He doesn’t mean a solitary meal at Crackbird has been put on plastic – he means the entire operation. The 12-weeks only casual diner, housed in a trendily dingy Crane Lane premises in Temple Bar, has a total card-financed investment of €15,000, confirms Macken’s business partner John Roberts.
“I spent double that on the tables in the last restaurant,” observes Macken. But that was then.
The “pop-up restaurant”, which opens on Monday and will allow up to 36 Twitter-bookers to eat for free each day, is Macken’s first venture since the failure of the Blackrock branch of Jo’Burger and Orange Square, a sandwich shop on Baggot St, which are now both long gone.
As was reported at the time, debts run up during Macken’s attempted expansion forced Jo’Burger into examinership in September 2009, owing €350,000. The original Rathmines burger bar traded successfully throughout, however, and the company restructured its debts and survived.
With new investor Roberts on board, Macken was itching to “do something different” again. He’s found his hook. Tweeters who follow @CrackBirdDublin and send them a reservation request using the #tweetseats hashtag will – if their requested booking is available – eat for free at a special six-seater booth at the back of the restaurant. There are six “free” sittings per day, starting every two hours from midday, and the #tweetseats stream shows they’re already filling fast. The other 54 seats are intended for paying customers.
This time around, there are no boom-era rents to contend with. Excluding rent (at €27 per square foot), Crackbird cost just €8,000 to set up. The fitout, to be completed this weekend, is all being done “on a shoestring”, Macken declared proudly when I met him on Thursday. His task for the night ahead was upholstering the picnic bench seating himself, while students from the National College of Art and Design have been put to work hand-sewing table linen in exchange for a nominal sum and a party. “Bartering”, Macken explains.
It has to be this way, he says, as he recalls the ”really hard 18 months” at Blackrock. On a high from the success of Rathmines, he signed up to pay top-end rents at a second Jo’Burger just as Ireland went bust and the young heavily mortgaged locals were losing their jobs.
Outgoings adjusted to suit the times, Macken is now taking advantage of the latest economic phenomenon – retail market turbulence – by securing a temporary lease on an unloved premises that he estimates has only been occupied for 18 months over the past decade. He’s actually cheerful about the atmosphere among city centre traders. “Everyone is pulling together, it’s great. People are really trying to help each other out.”
Crackbird, incidentally, refers to the “addictive chicken” varieties on the menu, cooked from scratch on site. And, yes, they have thought that name through. “It’s irreverent,” Macken laughs, claiming his mother and granny approve. He seems unfazed by the possibility that paying Irish diners might not go as wild for buttermilk-marinated, skillet-fried chicken as they do for Jo’Burger’s award-winning offering – or that they might get lost on the way down Crane Lane and end up in the strip joint next door.
Even if the pop-up restaurant thrives, he insists it will close down anyway after 12 weeks and that he and Roberts will try another one somewhere else. But they do – “please god”, says Roberts – hope to be able to pay off the credit card bill.