From pop-up restaurants to food trucks and carts, chefs and entrepreneurs are finding innovative ways to showcase their talents beyond the traditional restaurant.
These alternative routes are sometimes short-term, but have been successful, and have even segued into larger opportunities. For example, Chef Nathanial Zimet of Boucherie built his popular restaurant from a purple food truck that famously graced the streets of New Orleans, and MVB’s 2010 pop-up location at Slim Goodies gave a couple of food aficionados, for a limited time, a platform to showcase their burgers on Sunday nights.
However, for a group of local, food-loving entrepreneurs, there was still room to play with new experiences. The result? They’ve taken alternative dining to another level.
Let me introduce you to Dinner Lab, a start-up that challenges some of the city’s most determined foodies with exclusive dinner parties that feel more like a mix between a pop-up, a vacation, and an experiment than a formal dinner at your boss’s house. Besides giving diners an opportunity to try something different in unique locations, Dinner Lab also acts as a platform for some of the city’s most promising chefs.
Founded by Brian Bordainick, Bryson Aust, and Francisco Robert, Dinner Lab was first conceptualized out of frustration over finding high-quality ethnic food in town — in itself a surprising phenomenon for a town known for its rich culture and food. Still, even though New Orleans may lack a diverse selection of ethnic restaurants, the area boasts a lot of globally trained culinary talents — some who often remain undiscovered when working as sous chefs under more established chefs.
Now, the trio of Dinner Lab entrepreneurs aims to find those under-the-radar chefs who are looking to share their global talents, and introducing them to the city’s food aficionados at remote locations and unique events. The fledgling chefs are asked to use passion and talent to cook specialty meals that they would prepare on the weekend for their friends, rather than the meals they typically prepare in the kitchen line at work.
While it’s a startup, Dinner Lab acts more as a dining club, curating exclusive semi-weekly dinners that cater to the tastes and desires of its members. Dinners range in size, price and atmosphere, and each experience promises to be completely unique, with new locations, chefs, and people, by inviting to each dinner only the members who are looking for the specific experience being offered.
“We are creating a once-in-a-lifetime experience with each dinner,” said Bordainick. “The space, location, and people will always change, so we will never be able to recreate a moment.”
Integrating technology with the experience, Dinner Lab relies on the company’s online component to curate the events and tailor each one for its members, using models that have been widely successful for Internet companies like Netflix and Pandora. Bordainick adds that, with the online profiles, member preferences and feedback, they can ensure that each event is better than the last. The scalable model will also allow them to eventually launch Dinner Lab in other cities.
While some food is prepared on site, each meal is primarily cooked at the company’s kitchen and then transported to the event location, where the chef, wine sommelier, and professional staff lead the experience. Guests also have the opportunity to mingle with other dinner attendees, enjoy cocktails, and explore the location before dinner is served, adding to a unique and engaging experience.
Dinner Lab memberships are still available, and, at $100 a year, offer curated experiences based on individual preferences and availability, invitations for you and a guest to a minimum of 12 dinners a year, discount on public events throughout the year, access to future Dinner Lab locations, advance notice of events and presale tickets, and two priority membership invitations.
For those who are looking to show off some mean cooking skills or a great location, this is your chance to get involved. After all, who wouldn’t want to eat Korean food on a rooftop, Greek fare in a secret garden, Peruvian from a blighted, candle lit building, or an authentic Tunisian meal from an old Opera house?