Pop-Up Frequently Asked Questions

With the new Pop-Up User business licenses, retail entrepreneurs and restaurateurs will be able to obtain a short-term license that is not location-based, which will enable them to operate in temporary commercial locations throughout Chicago.

Conversely, the owners of commercial locations, with appropriate kitchen equipment for those who want to host licensed pop-up restaurateurs, will be able to obtain the proper Pop-Up Food Establishment Host business license, which provides them with the ability to lease or rent out their vacant establishments during their license period.

These business license types are the first-of-its-kind in the nation. Please reference the Frequently Asked Questions below for more information on these innovative City of Chicago business licenses.

Pop-Up User License

How much are the Pop-Up User licenses?

Retail or Tier I Pop-Up License

  • 5-day license | $25.00
  • 30-day license | $50.00
  • 90-day license | $75.00
  • 180-day license | $100.00
  • 1-year license | $150.00

Tier II or Tier III Pop-Up License

  • 5-day license | $50.00
  • 30-day license | $100.00
  • 90-day license | $150.00

Note: Licensed Shared Kitchen Users and Retail Food Establishments may add the business activity of Pop-Up User without any fees.


Are the Pop-Up User licenses connected to a location?

No. You can obtain a Pop-Up User business license and pop-up into different commercial locations during the license term. In a sense, it has city-wide possibilities.

 
How do I obtain a Pop-Up User license?

To obtain a Pop-Up User license, come to the Small Business Center (SBC) at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle, Room 800. You will meet with an SBC Business Consultant and, if your pop-up involves food, you will also have a consultation with a Department of Health Sanitarian to discuss your menu.

 
I want to operate a retail pop-up. What can I do?

To operate a retail pop-up, you can obtain a Pop-Up Retail User License. If you want to sell pre-packaged, shelf-stable food, then you can obtain a Pop-Up Food Establishment User – Tier I License. With these licenses, you can pop-up into any non-manufacturing, non-residential location.

 
I prepare food at a Shared Kitchen and want to pop-up at different locations in the city to sell my food. What can I do?

Licensed Shared Kitchen Users looking to sell their food at pop-up locations can add the pop-up business activity for free.  Just meet with a Small Business Center Business Consultant and inform them of your new activity and obtain your Pop-Up Food Establishment User Badge. The locations in which you may operate must have a hand sink and temperature control equipment, and must be licensed as a:

  • Retail Food Establishment with a Shared Kitchen Supplemental, or
  • Shared Kitchen Operator, or
  • Tier II or Tier III Pop-Up Host

 
I want to operate a full restaurant pop-up. What can I do?

To operate full restaurant as a pop-up, you must obtain a Tier III pop-up user license. The location in which you operate must pass an inspection and have all the equipment of a full restaurant. The locations in which you may operate must be licensed as a:

  • Retail Food Establishment with a Shared Kitchen Supplemental, or
  • Shared Kitchen Operator, or
  • Tier III Pop-Up Host

 
I am an existing restaurant and want to pop-up in different locations. What must I do?

If you are an existing restaurant with a valid Retail Food license, you can pop-up in different locations without obtaining a new license or paying a fee. You will need to come to the Small Business Center, and meet with a Business Consultant, to add the pop-up activity to your license and obtain a Pop-Up Food Establishment User Badge. You are required to keep records of your pop-up operations, ensure that the locations in which you pop-up have the proper licenses, and not operate in the same pop-up location for more than 90 days each year.

 
I run a trade show and used to get Itinerant Merchant licenses for our vendors. Will anything change?

The process for obtaining a Pop-Up Retail User license, which used to be called an Itinerant Merchant license, will not change for trade shows and exhibitions.

Can a User pop-up in multiple locations simultaneously?

If a pop-up user wishes to operate at multiple locations simultaneously, the user must obtain a separate pop-up license for each location. Similarly, an existing retail food establishment can only operate as a pop-up user at one location at a time.  

 
Pop-Up Locations

Does the location in which you pop-up require a license?

If you are selling general retail goods and/or pre-packaged, shelf-stable food (Tier I) out of the pop-up, then the location does not need to be licensed, however it must be a non-residential and non-manufacturing location and a permanent structure.

If you are selling food you prepare at a shared kitchen (Tier II) or that you prepare onsite (Tier III), then the location must be licensed appropriately.

 
How do I know if a location is non-manufacturing or non-residential?

Check out the City of Chicago Zoning Map. Any Zoning District that includes an “R” or “M” is not allowed to host a pop-up.

 
I own a building and want to turn it into a pop-up location. What must I do?

For a building owner to host pop-up users that sell general retail or shelf-stable, pre-packaged food, they do not need to obtain a license. They must ensure that the user has the proper license and keep records.

To host a pop-up user that prepares food at a shared kitchen (Tier II), the host must equip the location with a hand sink and temperature control equipment and obtain a Pop-Up Food Establishment Host – Tier II license. They must ensure that the user has the proper license and keep records.

To host a pop-up user that prepares food onsite (Tier III), the host must equip the location with all the typical requirements of a restaurant and obtain a Pop-Up Food Establishment Host – Tier III license. The location must pass an onsite inspection, and the host must ensure that the user has the proper license and keep records.

 
What are the length and terms of a pop-up host license?

Tier II: 1-year | $150

Tier III: 1-year | $330

 
I want to host a pop-up at my existing restaurant. What must I do?

If you are an existing restaurant with a valid Retail Food license, you will need to obtain a Shared Kitchen Supplemental license (2-years, $330) to host all types of pop-up users. You are responsible for ensuring that the users have the proper license and keep records.

Retail Food Establishments with a Shared Kitchen Supplemental License can host all of the following licensees at their location:

  • Pop-Up Users (Tiers I, II and III)
  • Shared Kitchen Users
  • Chicago-licensed Retail Food Establishments (with pop-up business activity)

Can a pop-up location host multiple pop-up users simultaneously?

Provided that each user has the proper license, and that the location is licensed to allow for the pop-up activity, then a location can host multiple pop-up users at the same time. The Host must notify the Department of Health during their consultation how many users they plan on hosting, to ensure sufficient hand sinks.

 
General Pop-Up Questions

Can pop-ups post exterior signs?

Installing a sign typically requires a sign permit, along with a public way use permit if any portion extends over the public way. To facilitate pop-ups, the building owner or lessee can use a licensed sign contractor to build a sign with the proper permits, and switch out the face of the sign when each pop-up comes in.

Additionally, the following options do not require a sign permit:

  • A painted or adhesive window sign that cover less than 25% of the window per pane
  • A vinyl sign attached to a window for no more than 60 days

 
Is BYOB allowed at Pop-Ups?

The City of Chicago does not regulate the practice of BYOB.  However, businesses that wish to engage in the practice of BYOB, are still responsible for ensuring that all laws and ordinances concerning the consumption of alcohol on their premises are followed.  This includes, but is not limited to, making sure minors are not consuming alcohol on the premises and protecting against customers being over served or over consuming.

 
Are there any insurance requirements?

Commercial Liability insurance is not required but recommended.  In addition, the licensed host of pop-up locations are required to maintain detailed records of each user that operates at the licensed location.

 
What other restrictions are there for pop-ups?

  • Alcohol or tobacco cannot be served by a pop-up user
  • Conducting any business activity that requires a specific business license issued by BACP is prohibited
  • Pop-up nightclubs are not allowed
  • Tier II and Tier III pop-ups cannot operate for more than 90 days per year in the same location
  • Pop-ups cannot operate in a vehicle of any kind or out of a home

 

 

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