You may have heard about a little something called The Eat Boutique Holiday Market that happened over three weeks last December in a North Allston, 3,500-square-foot building. About 8,000 of you stopped by to shop for food gifts, speak to local makers, meet cookbook authors, and celebrate the season with chefs and with us. It was a whirlwind of tireless work and dizzying wonderfulness and I’m still not even sure it really happened–that is until I see the photos and I know that thanks to the brilliant mind of Maggie Battista it really existed.
Many of you have written in with the same disbelief… except you wanted to know about the market’s size, length, maker visits, events, decor, and so much more. We decided we had no choice but to get Maggie to spill the beans on what really happens behind-the-scenes. Turns out, she was happy to share a few secrets about how the market came to be, as well as what it takes to create your own event on a whim.
Why did you decide to do this type of Holiday Market, i.e. size, location, events, and length of time?
I’ve hosted a holiday market for small business food and drink makers, and the folks who love to shop from them, since 2011. Some of them have been more intimate and others even larger. This time around, I wanted to create a holiday experience that would most closely resemble the look and feel of the permanent retail food space I plan to open in Boston.
Where did you find inspiration for this year’s holiday market?
The inspiration is the easy part, as I’m always creating mood boards and collages full of visual imagery to inspire future business ideas, events, stories, or concepts. For this Eat Boutique Holiday Market, I knew I wanted to tip my hat to Scandinavia, a part of Europe I’ve only ever visited once for two short days. I called it my modern Scandinavian holiday festival and included a very intentional design, simple furniture, and some modern handmade pieces that echoed something old, too.
Can you speak to past market experiences and how they may have influenced the success of this particular market?
Every market is flooded with guests and often so cramped. I wanted to make sure there was room to move around in this market space, with lots of room around each featured maker. It’s so important that fans get the opportunity to really talk to the folks who make the food they’re buying and sharing. I also believe that big gigantic windows with lots of natural light are key to making the food gifts look so good; we were so pleased to find a space that let the sun shine in.
Can you talk about what it was like building your vision in a completely raw and blank space?
It was like Christmas morning mixed with Thanksgiving Day, meaning, absolutely wonderful. This holiday market space was the very first to have so little infrastructure and no formal restrictions per se. The space had been empty for 15 years prior to our event, so we presented a vision board, a design and layout, and partnered with Graffito SP and Harvard University, the owner of the space, to get the infrastructure (electricity, wiring, cables, walls, etc.) built out in time for us to lay it all out with our furniture, shelving, design elements, lighting, greenery, and signage.
Who did you work with and how did each person contribute to making the market such a successful event?
Instead of giving names (because they know who they are), I’ll share the areas of responsibility required to make a magical market.
Right-Hand Person/Messaging Queen/Storyteller: Always bring on a right-hand person who can translate your ideas into real life. Mine happens to be responsible for all of Eat Boutique’s messaging and since everything we do is story driven, it’s important that she be involved in all the moving pieces. She crafted the language, wrote the marketing messages, established clear brand positioning working with the rest of the team, and made sure they stuck to it.
Publicity/Promotions/Partner Person: Our markets typically grow through word of mouth, but clarifying the story for the press, participating sponsors, and the local community requires a certain skill-set. Since our markets have grown in scale – and this is what we want to do when we grow up, you know – I now bring on someone to help spread the word in a formal way. The fab lady who does this for me is, well, fab!
Stylist/Designer/Greenery Maker/Person Who Makes It A Reality: Since I knew I’d be on tour for the two months leading up to the Holiday Market, I hired a stylist to help interpret and clarify my Scandinavian Holiday vision. He sifted through my mood boards, sourced materials, designed furniture, and put it all together on site. I’ve typically done this on my own in the past, and I won’t make that mistake again. It’s such a joy to see someone else interpret and improve your ideas. He really brought it to life.
Carpenter/Wood Charmer/Actual Maker: We designed furniture for this event, and quickly brought on a star carpenter who could tame our wild ideas into something truly tangible and beautiful. Our shelving systems were so simple, but modular and modern, and we needed an actual Carpenter to make it all happen.
Graphic Designer/Hand-Letterer/Calligrapher/Painter: Without the lady who so gets Eat Boutique, we wouldn’t be anywhere. I’ve worked with the same hand letterer for years; she works on the site and does signage for our real life events. She can see what’s in my head and make it better. Instead of designing vinyl lettering, we hand painted every letter on our windows and walls. I should say, SHE hand painted every letter and did it with such grace!
Programming/Culinary Events/Workshops/Classes: While this function was generally shared across multiple people because we all had strong ideas for our programming line up, I had a single person own some of the more involved events that included outside chefs, caterers, food vendors, food sourcing, permits, and wine/beer. You can’t make too many mistakes with anything involving permits and alcohol, so make sure someone is fully up to speed on it all and can guide you through all the nooks and crannies.
Opening Project Manager: Unlike every other event, I hired an opening project manager to push us through those five days leading up to the market open. I’ll talk more about her below.
You had 5 days from the time you were allowed into the space to opening night. How were you able to pull it off?
It came together for two big reasons. First, my team and I did so much planning up front. Starting in September, we had to-do lists, assignments, and dates by which we knew we had to get it all done – we were very precious with the time available and never took those early months waiting on permits and licenses for granted. Second, because I was on my first cookbook tour during the fall and returned to Boston 3 weeks prior to the market’s open date, I hired a seasoned food event project manager to come up from New York City and make sure we used those 5 days wisely. She whipped us into shape, kept us on task, forced the hard issues, and made the tough calls with us. I want her to run my life, forever.
What advice can you give for someone trying to bring together a pop-up or similar style event?
When folks ask me how to host their own pop-up markets, I usually rattle off these few bits of advice:
- Host a pop-up that brings you joy. It’s long hours full of heavy-lifting, last minute changes, permits that show up at the zero hour, etc. – so make sure to keep it fun for you and for the folks slogging it out with you.
- You can’t do it all alone! Pull together a team of folks who do things that compliment your skill-set. Keep them apprised of your plans, and make it a true collaboration.
- With that in mind, network, network, and network always. Stay in touch with folks who can help you plan a pop-up on a whim. Meet up on the regular to compare notes and keep them close at hand. For example, I keep in touch with real estate folks who may have space on short notice.
- Be super realistic and conservative when planning budgets. Make sure to account for every paperclip, nail, and sheet of paper – and track it in real time. Don’t wait until the end to discover you’ve run out of money.
- Always be dreaming, and dreaming big! I create mood boards and collages (using Pinterest) for event inspiration and brick-and-mortar planning. Keeping creative event ideas close at hand helps you be ready for when opportunity knocks.
How did the actual market live up to what you originally envisioned?
This holiday market was so much better than I could have expected – as we had nearly 8,000 guests over the 12 days – so folks told their friends to visit during the short time we were open. I believe in providing guests with a few elements of surprise-and-delight that make our events stand out a little from typical events. In this case, guests would wander into a building that is cool and industrial on the outside, but warm, inviting, and soft on the inside. And I think that juxtaposition of hard and soft was kinda’ special.
Ultimately, I wanted to design a space where I wanted to be, and the spirit, conviviality, and camaraderie between guests, makers, and staff were contagious – it was just a space you wanted to be in. I would go into the space to work for a few hours early in the morning before folks arrived because it just felt like a bright, happy, productive space.
What might you do differently in the next holiday market?
Between all the chefs, cookbook authors, and lifestyle experts participating, our lineup of culinary programming really is the tops. I have to thank my friends for that, because so many of them participated, flying in from as far as New Orleans and Los Angeles. In the permanent space (or the next pop-up market), I’ll work to incorporate more exciting, interactive events every day of the week or as frequently as possible.
As well, the surrounding neighborhood dictates the features of the market to some extent. If we returned to the North Allston neighborhood of Boston, we’d open our coffee shop early. Folks need their morning cup of Joe, especially during the holidays!
Can you share a favorite memory or happening from the market that made it all worthwhile?
First and foremost, despite the hard work, long hours, on-the-fly changes, and completely unforeseen potential issues that creep in at the last minute, the holiday market is always worthwhile! This one was, in particular, because I got to speak and personalize my new cookbook for locals. After being on tour all fall across the U.S., it was a treat to finally be home and hang with my local people. I personalized hundreds of cookbooks, got to hear about their recipe successes, and talked holiday plans (the best topic). That makes it all worthwhile, but there were a few others like:
Worthwhile moment #1: when two New Yorkers told me they drove up for the day just to shop the holiday market.
Worthwhile moment #2: when four Martha’s Vineyard locals ferried in for the day just to shop the holiday market.
Worthwhile moment #3: when a dear friend brought me a wood plaque he had carved that said “Eat Boutique” – a good omen for the permanent space.
Worthwhile moment #4: when the neighborhood poured in daily asking us to stick around beyond the holidays.
Worthwhile moment #5: when repeat market visitors who have been to most of our events tell you this is the best one, ever. That’s pretty special.
There really were so many worthwhile moments.
Eat Boutique is an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista. After hosting pop-up markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie is now focused on opening her first permanent Eat Boutique–a food-retail concept space with a new way to the very best food. Her second cookbook, A New Way to Food: Recipes That Revamped My Pantry & Made Me Love Me, At Last, will be published by Roost Books/Penguin Random House in 2019. Her first cookbook, Food Gift Love, features more than 100 food gift recipes to make, wrap, and share and is available wherever you find favorite cookbooks.