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INCOMING: Dinner Lab

This supper club's got $1.2 Million. They're headed to San Diego.

By Troy Johnson

Since when does an underground supper club get a $1.2 Million investment, including a large chunk from a top-level Whole Foods chairman? When it’s a really good idea, it seems.

That idea—Dinner Lab—is now set to launch in San Diego.

Dinner Lab throws a feast every couple of weeks in a strange location (abandoned warehouses, churches, helipads, etc.). Members aren’t told the location until the night before. Upon arrival, an up-and-coming chef puts on a feast of at least five courses and unlimited drinks. The tables are simply dressed. There are candles. Diners rate the meal using the latest in high-tech: pen and pencil.

It’s a fringe, experimental dinner by young talents with ideas. And never strikes the same place twice.

“We think we can add a lot to what’s happening in San Diego,” says CEO Brian Bordainick. “Half the chefs chosen for events will be from San Diego, half will be chefs who rated well at events in other cities. Similarly, if a San Diego chef rates well at a dinner, we might fly them to another city to do a Dinner Lab. We like to think of it like an import/export business, but tastier.”

By design, these are not “name” chefs. They are the No. 2 and No. 3 chefs at great restaurants, or wild cards. The sort of cooks and chefs who have more skills than opportunity. Why? Well, restaurants tend to hire “laterally. When they lose a chef de cuisine, they hire another chef de cuisine (instead of promoting a talented sous from their own kitchen). One of Dinner Lab’s goals is to give underground talent an arena to prove they’re ready for a bigger role.

Dinner Lab started in New Orleans, and has now spread through 19 cities. The New Yorker did a nice video of the experience here. The company uses the diner-feedback data in a few ways. First, it lets chefs know which dishes are working and which ones need to be tweaked—or whether their menu is such a winner it demands a restaurant concept of its own.  It also lets Dinner Lab learn which types of dinners/foods their members responded well to, allowing them to tailor future events.

As for the nuts and bolts: After paying $175 membership, diners are invited (with a guest) to every event. They can opt to purchase tickets to each for $55-$85, which includes at least five courses, tip, and unlimited drinks. Once up and running, Dinner Lab feasts will strike at another off-the-wall environs a couple times a week.

The first San Diego event Interested? Sign up for a membership here.

INCOMING: Dinner Lab

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