Dressed in black trench coats and costumes only a fanatic would recognize, customers lined up over the weekend in the West Loop to say hello to film director Kevin Smith and actor Jason Mewes, the team behind movies like Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy. The duo traveled to Chicago to make appearances for their pop-up based on Mooby’s, a fast-food restaurant depicted in Smith’s films.
Pop-ups restaurants and bars have meant big business in Chicago over the last few years. These tributes to pop culture face an uphill battle during the public health crisis with challenges unique to the struggles that the entire industry faces. As the government clamps down on indoor dining, loitering inside a space designed to look like customers are hanging on a TV or movie set is a definite no-no for health experts.
Mooby’s temporary home — Saint Lou’s Assembly, near Lake and Halsted — was decorated with framed artwork such as photos of the late comedian George Carlin (who appeared in Dogma), actor Ben Affleck (a friend of Smith’s), and Beverly Hills 90210’s Shannen Doherty (Mallrats). The pop-up opened Friday, October 30 and goes through Friday, November 6. It’s a takeout-only operation. For the weekend, Smith and Mewes hung out to chat with fans and to sign posters and other other trinkets. There was plenty of merchandise for sale from action figures, shirts, and even face masks.
Pop-up creator Derek Berry played the part of wrangler. Some fans showed up with stacks of items in hopes Smith would sign them all. Berry told the fans autographs would be limited to three items. Some fans didn’t like that news and sulked around outside.
When Berry launched his pop-up operation four years ago with the creation of a restaurant based on ‘90s sitcom Saved by the Bell, he never imagined he would be in this position. As one of the country’s most successful pop culture pop-up restaurant productions — with acclaimed runs with properties like Good Burger, Breaking Bad, and 90210 — Berry now appears to be at a crossroads. He says he’s closing his LA pop-up space Monday. They tried to focus on brunch with patio seating, but it wasn’t working out without a property that excites a nostalgic-hungry fanbase.
Berry’s efforts ushered in a pop-up golden age in Chicago. He brought in Brian Fisher — chef who would eventually lead Entente to a Michelin star — to create the food. He’s also worked with other big-name talent as the food isn’t an afterthought at the pop-ups. At Mooby’s it’s elevated fast food full of puns. On Saturday, Mewes ordered the fried chicken sandwich, labeled on the menu as the “Cocksmoker.”
Throughout the pandemic, a few Chicago restaurants continue to mine TV, radio, and video games for pop-up ideas. It brings a little glitz to Chicago, which isn’t a center for entertainment media like Hollywood. Diners still need a safe escape or something to make them laugh during these stressful times. On Saturday, two friends met Smith and Mewes, telling them that they traveled to LA in June when the Mooby’s pop-up.
As the music from his movies played on speakers, Smith paused. It was a nostalgic trip for him, too: “I like this!” he says, pointing at the sound system. He was set to return back to his Airbnb to nosh on some vegan pies from Pizza Friendly Pizza, a restaurant owned by the same company as Saint Lou’s.
The pop-up lasts through Friday. Order via Tock.