Jesus Christ Supper Club
The idea of sharing food is probably as old as mankind. Seems that supper clubs are somehow in our genes, eating in company makes food just more enjoyable. Already the Stone Age clans would meet around the fireplace for a well deserved bison or mammoth BBQ after the hunt. Or think at Jesus who invited his 12 Apostles around the table for a farewell dinner, The Last Supper: “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them“. As we know, the story ended rather badly for the host. But the word was spread and in a way created the first worldwide supper club movement: Still today, Christians get together to break the bread when they receive the Holy Communion.
But what’s the origin of supper clubs as they arise today? Most say it started off with Cuba’s Paladares, family-run restaurants in private homes that have been built into the culture for the longest time. But caution! Fidel Castro’s communist regime was no fan at all of any type of privately owned businesses. These eating establishments were highly illegal until the early 90s when the Societ Union collapsed. A huge economic crisis in Cuba was one of the outcomes. At that point, Fidel felt probably more loyal to the idea of staying in power than to his original plan. He was finally ready for some concessions to his starving people, one being the legalization of Paladares, small private restaurants. More reforms followed around 2010, giving the popularity of Paladares another strong push.
Besides Cuba, Argentina and in particular Buenos Aires is a hot spot for underground restaurants. Seems these Restaurantes a Puertas Cerradas, meaning closed-door restaurants have been around for the last 3 decades. But similar to Cuba it was the economic crisis in early 2000 that made the phenomenon grow really big. Some people started to explore new sources of income, others new affordable ways of eating out. Restaurantes a Puertas Cerradas are also known in other Latin American countries, notably Chile and Peru.
Mainly over the last 3 or 4 years the idea made its way into the anglo-american space, less as an answer to economic circumstances but more for the fun. Underground eating is more exciting than booking a table in a restaurant where the only new person you talk to that night is the waiter. And who says that talented cooks can only be found in restaurants? Ebay as the first electronic garage sale started in 1995, and since then Web 2.0 has taught us how we can organize ourselves at private level. Today, Airbnb and Couch Surfing make us independent from hotel chains, private car sharing with Tamyca replaces rental cars, and instead of bank credits crowd-funding via Kickstarter fuels innovative business ideas with fresh capital. People are more and more bypassing established suppliers, for reasons of a better deal or a better experience, more often both.
So I guess the zeitgeist is just ready for private restaurants. Of course, they come and they go as part of their nature. People move houses and suddenly don’t have the space anymore, they get babies or a new demanding job, some open a “real” restaurant, others run into problems with the neighbours – and at the same time new ones open their doors. Every bet there isn’t one European capital that hasn’t got at least one supper club, underground restaurant, private kitchen, secret dinner, pop-up restaurant or whatever it is called. And from there it spreads across the countries. I started to compile a worldwide list, it’s work in progress and far from complete, but will soon get to 1.000 entries. Berlin for example has minimum 30 underground eateries from what I know, others can be found in Hamburg, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Stuttgart or Munich. But also smaller cities like Gießen, Göttingen, Augsburg and Krefeld are no white spots on the map anymore. Supper Clubs are equally on the rise in France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, and also start to show in Eastern Europe, notably Poland, Czech Republic, Romania and Russia.
I am happy to share my findings in case you are looking for a delicious underground experience around where you live. Just send me an email with your request. Vice versa, if you know a supper club, be it from word-of-mouth, be it that you went there as a guest or that you host it yourself, I am very interested to hear from you!