While one may think that our current takeout and delivery restaurant model has made the “dining experience” obsolete, at least for now, you’d be surprised. As always, restauranteurs have proven their entrepreneurial spirit is hard to keep down. As a salute to these strongholds that inspire us to greatness despite circumstance, let’s share a few of the outstanding enterprises that have created at home as well as in-house dining experiences.
Addo in Seattle
What started as pop-ups and a chef’s table out of a Seattle apartment has turned into Addo. Eric Rivera is the chef and owner of Addo, an incredibly popular concept with a constantly changing menu and cuisine. Like many, he had to reimagine what had once been a restaurant booked well in advance.
His imagination was evident even before the pandemic asked more of him. Multi-course themed dinners were his trademark. His Puerto Rican roots enabled him to create a side business, Lechoncito, from which comes inspired dishes such as lechon, chicharron de pollo, and jibarito. Since the shutdowns and restrictions began, he’s sold-out on whole roasted pig and sells spices and dry goods such as sofrito, sazon, and adobo around the country.
Go to Addo’s website, and you’ll see some ingenious dining experiences including a Chef’s Choice 5 Course Dinner at Home, Lechoncito Puerto Rican Food for Delivery and Takeout, and a Fondue Club.
Niche Niche in SoHo
In ecology, a niche is the match of a species to a specific environmental condition. To say that Niche Niche chose its environment well when owners Ariel and Billy Arce picked SoHo as its home is an understatement.
This dinner party-style restaurant came to life at the beginning of 2019, giving it just about a year before being struck the COVID-19 blow. It started as a communal gathering where wine experts paired and discussed the wine they were offering with each course. The spontaneous experience could be a Greek party one night and an Italian la festa the next. Described as an “elevated dining experience for wine lovers,” its intimate setting and community focus was a big hit booked months in advance.
When New York City became the first pandemic victim, Arce turned to the delivery and takeout game to weather the storm. And staying true to her concept, she offers a Niche Niche tasting and dinner pairing experience for home. They showcase an extensive takeaway wine list that is updated daily.
Junzi in Manhattan
What started as high-end Chinese food in a fast-casual setting, quickly turned into three popular locations. Most of the Yale grads that started the concept had family in China. They understood, early on, that they were going to have to get creative if they were to survive what was looming ahead for them and those in the restaurant industry.
Before March 2019, they offered Chef’s Study, a collaborative tasting menu that “explored the evolving narrative of contemporary Chinese cuisine.” Previous dinners included recipes that traced the Silk Road and roast duck from the 14th century. The question was, how do they provide this service in a stay-at-home world?
With the focus on nourishment and hope, Distance Dining was born. This unique culinary experience includes a three-course meal and Instagram Live every Friday where culinary experts share their story regarding each week’s themed offerings. Described as a “crisis delivery pop-up,” past offerings include Creole Chinese, Indian Chinese, and West African Chinese.
Ace Eat Serve in Denver
This active dinner scene known for ping-pong games, billiards, and other attractions, went from game crazy to quiet as the pandemic closed restaurants and then left them at 50 percent capacity.
The response from Josh Wolkon, owner, and executive chef, Thach Tran, was to create Happy Go Lucky pop-up that features poke bowls for the lunch crowd.
When dine-in with restricted capacity returned, Wolkon developed play safe ping pong and winterized his patio. There you’ll find fire pits, heaters, igloos under the stars, and live music on Saturdays. He offers Soup Dumpling Sunday – Xiao Long Bao (a sold-out success) and Peking Duck Thursday—a whole duck with mu-shu crepes, scallions, cucumber, apricot chili sauce, and hoisin. Yum. For those looking to loosen up and relax, Wednesdays brings $5 Wings & $5 Whiskey.
Clarity in Vienna, Virginia
Fine dining restauranteur, Jon Krinn, was known for his unique wine and whiskey dinner experiences that included smoked barbecue, oysters, and sashimi crudo. He knew change was approaching and quickly pivoted to Full Menu To Go Sunday – Thursday. Paired with wine, whiskey, or bourbon, their tasting menu sample may include scallops, Alaskan sablefish, and wild Scottish partridge.
He also created Raid Your Wine Cellar Dinners where guests come up with eight wines and Krinn creates a paired tasting menu.
When patio dining returned, he revived the five-course prix-fixe meals by creating 16 nautical-designed slips in his parking lot. He describes it as half patio and half tailgating. Past events include Virginia Estate Bordeaux Style Blends paired with Clarity Texas Barbeque and Argentinian Grilled Fish/Meats/Vegetables and Pakravan Papi Super Tuscan Italian.
Another creative invention is the Cigar Lounge—a corner of the parking lot under a tent where you bring your own cigars, drink whiskey and wine, and eat barbeque and oysters.
And the list goes on. Scrappy, resilient restauranteurs around the globe are finding a way to create and sustain while the world around us flounders. Cheers to all of those that have fought through the headwinds and may your efforts sustain you through the trials that lie ahead.