Happy John Stark Day! Who’s ready to rise to the Stark Park pop-up cafe challenge?

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Normally this space is reserved for expert advice for navigating transitions in work, life, and relationships from Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady and her team members at BDS Insight.  However, today it’s something completely different.

Read on.

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  is for FB flashback, 2014



Stark Park memorial plaza is finished. I think the city should turn it into a weekly outdoor music cafe. They should grant weekly vendor licenses to pop up food trucks and artists or musicians. They should offer incentives for the vendors to turn back weekly profit to a charity of their choice. They should host a park-wide end of summer competition where residents get to travel the summer vendors who operated the food truck who have not set up stalls for the event throughout the park and the stall that raises the most funds for a charity is declared the winner of that summer’s “Stark Place Cafe Series.” To offer sustained infrastructure and to build opportunities for useful summer youth jobs the city should staff the area with staff that set up, break down, and handle logistics of a rotating restaurant and performance space. Even if this was only a single evening a week event it could be an amazing thing. This just would be so great, right?

Stark Park Memorial Plaza.
Stark Park Memorial Plaza.

Facebook reminded me that two years ago I had this crazy idea for a summer “pop-up cafe” series that would simultaneously build community, provide charity donations for up to 10 organizations, allow youth in need of summer employment to work on a worthy community endeavor, and allow established and emerging restaurant and catering companies a chance to explore some new offerings or expose a new market to their food.

As it turns out, Monday April 25, 2016, the Friends of Stark Park will celebrate General John Stark Day and, once again, remember a man who drew from his own life experience to provide for those who needed leadership, guidance, and comfort. It has me thinking how needed those same things are in our own time.

Looking back now, I think it’s so crazy it just might work! It has me thinking maybe there’s something to this idea I had.

Whenever there is an exciting idea, it takes a lot more than thinking for it to come to fruition – and usually when it does happen it comes out looking quite a bit different than the original vision. When I first posted the idea on Facebook, it didn’t go far; and while some folks I know on FB are connected with the City and the park, a passing post doesn’t do much to kick-start a new initiative.

Lucky me, I have access to this great platform here, via Manchester Ink Link, and I have neglected it terribly lately. That’s why this time around I won’t be responding to a reader letter, but I will instead be revisiting my own question, about a pop-up cafe series.

I am putting it out there as a blueprint. Maybe someone reading this can take it and run with it.

What would it take to plan?

To understand a community event series we first have to understand what the logistics would require. Organizers of course, and a food truck, space, restaurateurs, event staff, marketing, charities. Could a pop-up food truck happen in Manchester with our current players and regulations?

We can first turn to the Department of Public Health website which outlines what rules food permit requests must adhere to in filing their paperwork.

SNHU's Munciez Food Truck,
SNHU\’s Munciez Food Truck,

For our idea, a mobile food license could be established if the vehicle was operated by the City or a local organization. How much use will that SNHU food truck be getting this summer? Or what about the plans once described by the Manchester Food Co-op? According to their website they are still seeking $40,000 to make their mobile market a reality. Maybe this idea could be a mutually beneficial idea for them and the community. Or maybe we can figure out a food truck rental option that requires less of an initial investment.

Aside from licensing for the truck there are the issues of running events in the city’s parks.

Friends of Stark park mention their ability to coordinate gazebo reservations, generally for weddings, but their website doesn’t outline the rules for other park events. A quick trip to the City of Manchester Parks & Rec Department (in my imagination I enjoy the idea of Leslie Knope entering a permit request on our behalf…) website lists some frequently asked questions and among them are how to reserve a park or athletic field. For this series of pop-up food truck cafe it looks like a “Special Event” permit would be required.

Helpfully, the city provides a very detailed guide to help navigate the special event permitting process. And process it is, with organizers needing to work ahead at least 90 days.

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If someone jumps on this by May 5 we could all be enjoying our first “pop-up cafe” on the 5th of August. What a lovely way to ease into the late summer and enjoy some of the local harvest that appears by then!

Seriously, any new idea needs some drivers, and in exploring this idea, there are a few stakeholders that might choose to drive. For one, this project ultimately is about making community. Lot’s of people love food, and even food they are familiar with takes on a new flavor when prepared in a new venue.

This idea isn’t without some degree of precedence; we already have an annual event that brings local businesses and non-profits together around food; the very popular and successful $2 dollar taco night coming up in two weeks where local restaurants and cafe’s make and sell signature tacos and dedicate profits to a charity of their choice.

The pop-up food truck cafe could build on these already successful partnerships and an organization that wanted to support youth employment might be a key organizer, helping to supply the labor required to clean and stock the truck for that week’s event.

Youth Career Cafe
Youth Career Cafe

Setting up tables, chairs, and cleaning up after folks are done eating could all be handled by supervised youth workers. Over time the group could include marketing and promotion efforts as part of the employment program, which would allow youth to gain event management experience they can carry forward into their early careers and education. If such a youth employment model isn’t spearheaded by the city perhaps it could be taken up by an organization taking advantage of Federal work program dollars. One group in Virginia did just that back in 2006 and now several locations of Youth Career Cafe serve opportunity youth looking to improve their employment and leadership skills. What players can you think of that could benefit from this?

Finally, it’s all well and good to have a one or two time “pop-up” experience, but for the program to move toward self-sustaining it needs to entice attendees. NH folks love food, and Intown Manchester, Stay Work Play, and others promoting living and playing in Manchester and NH could work to promote the event in expected and unexpected places. Maybe the proposed Old Sol Music Hall wants to take on the talent partnering that such an event might inspire.

A powerful trifecta could be established featuring a dedicated food vendor, charity, and local talent to perform for each night of the pop up experience. Today people love events that are unique and unlikely to happen again (part of the Fear of Missing OScreen Shot 2016-04-24 at 10.12.07 PMut phenomenon that drives so many activity choices) because it gives them the motivation required to actually go out and engage – rather than, say, posting random comments on your Facebook page for other people to maybe get inspired by.

There might be a lot of reasons a program like this can’t work for Stark Park, maybe enjoying a meal so near his final resting place isn’t the best approach. But thinking and problem solving ways to benefit large parts of our community is always worth a detour.

So then, happy spring! Here’s to sharing an idea, and putting some good leads out there.

I’m looking forward to enjoying my first snack dog offered by whomever ends up carrying this a bit further down the road. Or maybe it will be tacos, a vegan bowl, or a harvest-inspired menu.

Which partners can you share this post with to build momentum in Manchester? Who’s ready to rise to the Stark Park Pop-Up Cafe Challenge?

I’ll sweeten the deal and offer 10 hours of unpaid grant development work to the lead organization looking to take this idea and run between now and July 1, 2016.  After that, there might be another idea challenge I can share!

Loretta L.C. Brady


Loretta L.C. Brady owns BDS Insight a culture, crisis, and conflict management firm in Manchester.  She is a Professor of Psychology at Saint Anselm College. She, her husband Brian Brady, and their 5 children live and work in Manchester.


About this Author


Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!