Dolly's and Wilfred's try pop-ups for holiday boost

· The Pulse

The holiday season is critical for restaurant revenue because the industry slows to a crawl in January. Two Edmonton restaurants are trying to make the most of these crucial weeks with different approaches to the now storied holiday pop-up.

Wilfred's is hosting the licensed, tiki-themed Sippin' Santa event from Nov. 30 to Dec. 31. Meanwhile, Dolly's Cocktail Bar is hosting its own creation, the Holly Dolly Xmas Pop Up, from Nov. 23 to Jan 7.

What the owners of the two businesses share, aside from the holly-jolly attitude, is a belief that the expense to create or license a holiday-themed pop-up is worth it for the potential return.

"I've always really liked the Sippin' Santa concept," Marcus Purtzki, owner of Wilfred's and the Made by Marcus empire told Taproot. "The extravagant, cheeky, kind of holiday festival, I think is really cool. Some of the backstory of it is really cool. It's done by Jeff 'Beachbum' Berry, who's known to be a tiki historian."

The experience at Dolly's is more of a Technicolor take on Christmas decor, done in a similar aesthetic to what its clientele has come to expect from the highly Instagrammable cocktail bar.

Kyla Kazeil, a co-owner of The Common group of restaurants, which includes Dolly's, and the proprietor of The Bamboo Ballroom, told Taproot that because the latter business has wholesale access to design goods, the Dolly's team was able to create its pop-up in-house at an affordable price. "We conceptualize and design everything ourselves," she said.

Kazeil estimated the cost of her pop-up at less than $3,500. Meanwhile, Purtzki said his $9,000 investment in licensing Sippin' Santa also presented cost savings. The licence includes exclusive access to offer the Sippin' Santa brand in a city, a brand manual, marketing materials, recipes, and batching instructions. Restaurants make money through drink sales and hocking the brand's iconic glassware. Glassware isn't included in the licensing price, but Purtzki said it's still a good deal.

"You don't have to spend the money to get a designer to try to copy (Sippin' Santa)," he said. "It probably costs you more money, on all the little bits and bobs, for you to copy it, rather than just paying the $9,000 licensing fee."

Sippin' Santa is a pop-up experience offered by Cocktail Kingdom (an American barware distributor), which also operates the very viral Miracle. Both pop-ups began in New York City in the mid-2010s but have since gone international, this year operating 12 Miracles and four Sippin' Santas in Canada alone. Fortune covered the significant business the experiences drummed up for bars during the pandemic.

A vibrant restaurant interior shows a large amount of Christmas decorations, tables, chairs, a bar, and a sign reading "Dolly's."

Dolly's Cocktail Bar hosts the Holly Dolly Xmas Pop Up (pictured) until Jan. 7, while Wilfred's hosts the Sippin' Santa pop-up until Dec. 31. (Supplied)

Kazeil and Purtzki both consulted with the owners of Calgary's Proof, which has hosted Miracle since 2018, about their experience before launching these holiday extravaganzas.

"They actually don't take reservations. They kind of recommended not to do that, and just keep it simple … They just do their Miracle recipes, they don't do any other drinks," Purtzki said, though Wilfred's does offer reservations.

One is cheaper than the other. And while Kazeil felt a creative impetus — alongside her business advantage — to do an original pop-up, business owners including Purtzki take relief in offering a proven experience.

Another key difference between the two pop-ups is that Dolly's is a bar, open 'til the wee hours, while Wilfred's is more family-focused and closes before midnight.

"People more come here for dinner, or maybe after dinner, they're going to come here and grab a couple of drinks," Purtzki said. "So we're not having people really coming in at like 10, 11 to fit in another piece of their bar-hopping. It has been pretty civilized."

More Christmas cocktails

Dolly's and Wilfred's aren't the only game in town for festive drinking opportunities. Here are a few others: