Dinner Lab is a popular, well-funded, membership-based, traveling pop-up dinner company that "exists to bring people together with new ideas in food." The company does this by hosting exclusive dinners at obscure locations in various cities throughout the U.S., where they give undiscovered chefs a creative platform to prototype new dishes and ideas through a multi-course, themed dining experience. After the meal, the intrepid diners provide detailed feedback to help the chefs and company iterate and grow. Dinner Lab is backed in large part by investors including Whole Foods, so in addition to being a source for exciting meals, it's really a method in research and development for the upscale food industry. Dinner Lab was first launched in New Orleans, has since spread to 20 cities, and is ready to launch in America's Finest City, hosting its first dinner in San Diego on Friday, October 3 - five courses by culinary vagabond, Chef Ryan Carson of 'Pri-vē.
Dinner Lab operates through a membership model where one pays an annual fee up front ($175/year that begins when you attend your first dinner, not when you pay for it), which provides members access to the calendar of events for them plus one non-member guest. The company claims that this is not in the interest of exclusivity, but rather as a means of subsidizing the up-front cost of the meals - hiring people, renting a kitchen, etc. Guests then pay for each dinner (average $60-80) and have access to not only events in the local market, but in every other city that Dinner Lab operates. Tickets are purchased through the website starting a few weeks prior to the event, and prices are inclusive of at least 5 courses, tax, gratuity, and alcohol.
|Chef Ryan Carson|
Participating chefs at Dinner Labs around the country are asked to tell a story through their menus - recipes that speak to their background or heritage, ingredients they are passionate about, or completely new dishes they’ve been experimenting with on days away from the restaurant. Each time a participant attends an event, their feedback and suggestions are shared with the chef so that he or she may improve on their menu concept. Diners are asked to rate each dish’s creativity and taste, as well as each drink pairing, on a scale of one to five and also to decide whether or not the course was “restaurant worthy.” All of this information is aggregated and then delivered back to the chef.
Soon Dinner Lab will try their approach in a more conventional setting with the anticipated opening of at least one, and as many as three, brick-and-mortar restaurants in locations determined by the company's membership population and feedback. To determine who will be leading their restaurant(s), Dinner Lab recently held a competition where they sent nine chefs on a 10-week tour and, through diner feedback, narrowed the field to three chefs. These chef finalists will soon partake in another tour that will ultimately determine which of the chefs will end up running their own restaurant, possibly even all three.
|Dinner Lab CEO Brian Bordainick|
Dinner Lab certainly has its share of believers, including John B. Elstrott, the chairman of Whole Foods Market who, along with 24 other investors, recently invested into the previously bootstrapped company $2.1 million which, including additional funds that Mr. Bordainick hopes to raise in coming months, will help open the restaurants that will be built with Dinner Lab principles and knowledge in mind. If all goes as planned, Dinner Lab will operate in 40 cities, including international ones, by the end of 2015.
The idea for the Dinner Lab came from CEO Brian Bordainick, who turned 29 this year. He had a desire to find quality food late night in New Orleans that wasn't cliche or touristy. He decided to solicit friends that could cook and make his own pop-up meals. The first event in 2011 was for 12 friends, followed by another about a year later for 60. Dinner Lab was officially founded in August 2012, and is now run by a six-person team.
Dinner Lab closes memberships throughout the year, but we have a special link for SanDiegoVille readers so they can skip the wait list - dinnerlab.com/openuser/memberjoin.php?inviteid=xXjYzM. For more information, visit dinnerlab.com.