San Francisco is about to play host to a new pop-up that aims to bring a taste of Eastern Europe to the Mission District. Asja Sever, an experienced industry pro, was born in the Croatian capital city of Zagreb; she and her family were among those forced from their home country in the 1990s due to the Homeland War, the extended conflict which took a huge toll on the citizens of Croatia and caused a reported 500,000 displaced people. Her family eventually found their way to Philadelphia, and at 13 years old Sever began working in the restaurant industry. Now, after diving into wine and working at high-end restaurants like Rich Table, she’s launching her own pop-up, Yugobar, to pay homage to her European roots. “I’ve been living between both worlds,” Sever says.
Guests can expect five to seven shareable small plates of traditional Croatian food, ranging from $10 to $30 each. All will be made using Sever’s grandmother's and great-grandmother’s recipes, which were passed down verbally, Sever says, as her eldest family members never learned to read or write. Plates will include olives, charcuterie boards, and a squid ink risotto that Sever expects to be a menu staple. “If you’re a Croatian person, you judge the quality of the risotto by how black it turns your teeth,” Sever says. “It’s supposed to be really inky, and has that wonderful umami.”
A list of 15 Croatian wines will be available by the glass. Sever is a familiar wine buyer and seller in the Bay Area, working for Alluvial Wines before running her own operation distributing wines from Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary through her business Itty Bitty Viti.
She can’t share many details on Yugobar just yet, but she knows it will be a weekly pop-up in the Mission District at one of a few places she's considering. She’s running the project alongside a few friends and fellow service industry folks and hopes to make it sustainable for all involved. “It’s really about where we can do it for about a year or two,” Sever says. “The goal is not to become brick and mortar. That seems like a money pit.” Rather, part of her intention is to pay her friends high hourly wages for their work and to equitably distribute tips — two commitments that make sense as restaurants like Good Good Culture Club and Che Fico (amongst others) look to provide workers with higher pay and better working conditions.
The first pop-up is planned for October. Potentially, half of the seats will be walk-in and half will be available for reservation. Ultimately, Sever would love to see folks from the South Bay, where she says there’s a larger Croatian population, attend the events. “I’ve gotten so many messages from Croatian people already,” Sever says. “They’re excited because no one’s ever done it. I’ve been dreaming of this for years. I’m stoked.”