Houston is bursting at the seams with adventurous foodies. But most of them only go out to eat with their close friends or loved ones. What if there was a way to bring these food enthusiasts together over dinner? Near the end of this year, this will be a possibility.
Local Neighborfood is a start-up business from Jonathan Wong and Emily Paez that will elevate dining from simply eating at home or in a restaurant.
"We want to take a different approach into dining and at the same time we want to give people an opportunity to know their community, know their city a little better," Wong says. "The premise of Local Neighborfood is to give the community people the opportunity to fine dine at different venue locations throughout the city. For example at the Sugar Factory in Sugar Land or it could be a hole-in-the-wall, a luxurious car dealership or it could be in a garage with an amazing view of the sites in Houston. We bring chefs to these venue locations; they have a menu plan in mind and we serve the food, they [diners] socialize and they enjoy the meal with a great community."
These dinners won't be open to the public, though. If you want to attend the hosted events, you must sign up for an annual membership fee (yet to be determined). This will ensure you get invited to every dinner. Paez says it's like a "secret diner's club where we only let the client know where the venue is the day before." You'll be informed which local chef is cooking and what they will prepare that evening, but the location is kept a secret until the last minute.
"We will feature different chefs each time [and] feature different venues every time, so they get to explore Houston, try new menus from experienced and inexperienced chefs and then socialize with a group of people that maybe become their closest friends -- adventurous foodies that have that in common and they celebrate Houston," Paez says. "There are so many different places in Houston that haven't been explored yet and there are different places that could be really cool venues for dining that just hasn't been used yet in that setting. So we want to make it something fun for our clients and whoever becomes a member. But also just celebrate the great things about Houston. We're featuring local chefs and we're featuring a local venue and changing it up every week so that there are people who are interested in food and chefs in general."
Each dinner will also be themed, based on the venue, area of town and the meal. Paez explains that one potential theme is a murder mystery dinner hosted in an abandoned warehouse. The team wants to blend all of the components of the dinner together.
Focusing on Houston is a major premise of Local Neighborfood, from the food being offered to the chef preparing it. Wong and Paez plan to only showcase local chefs and provide them with local foods from farmers markets. Currently, because they are still planning the specifics with the company, the lineup of participating chefs hasn't been finalized. Some may come from existing restaurants, some may be in the works of starting up their own endeavor, while others may spend their days cooking on food trucks. No matter who it is or what they are cooking, locality is key.
"We would like to help the community by giving back to it," Wong says. "Right now I am actually currently talking to the Houston Food Bank and we are trying to develop a partnership or relationship because we are going to donate a portion of the proceeds to the food bank directly for every event."
Local Neighborfood also plans to support local organizations, such as one at the University of Houston in the hospitality department where Paez recently graduated.
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"There's an organization at the University of Houston that provides scholarships to students for event staffing," Paez says. "I've already contacted them to start off with some of our events and give promotion to that organization because every event they staff, that money goes towards scholarships. So, it's again with the theme giving back to the community; we really feel like that organization is doing what they can to branch out and support the students at the University of Houston and feature the Hilton College there."
Each of the dinners will hold approximately 30 to 60 individuals, but no more than 60 because the intimacy of the experience is lost. If a dinner attracts a large crowd, then another time slot for that dinner will be be offered.
As of now, Wong and Paez are focusing on dinners, but as they find venues and chefs interested in participating, then they want to host happy hour and brunch events. They also have their sights set on expanding Local Neighborfood to other cities in the country so the locals there can partake in the same dining experience. Those chapters of Local Neighborfood will also donate a portion of the proceeds to local nonprofit organizations, such as the local food bank or Star of Hope.
"We are very social foodies that think this is a niche that Houston hasn't seen yet, Paez says. "We want to make Houston feel cool, and there's something special about dinner parties and there's something special with them -- like you're part of a secluded environment of like-minded people. So we wanted to kind of offer Houston that opportunity first and then branch out where we are doing these events in all of these top cities, and [members] can go to these events when they visit another city and just be a part of a community of people."