Vancouver-based online operation comes to Toronto to make the supper-club concept more accessible and affordable.
Over the past year, Toronto has seen a surge in dinner series—weekly or monthly special dinners prepared by chefs who want to cook outside of their regular menu. There’s the monthly Group of Seven dinners, the biweekly Monday Night dinners, the Rusholme Park Supper Club and, of course, the notoriously exclusive Charlie’s Burgers supper club. And now there’s The Social Feed, the brainchild of 25-year-old Reggie Milligan, who wants to bring his weekly dinners to a national—and hopefully international—level.
“The Social Feed is basically a dinner party at a restaurant in which a bunch of people sit at one communal table, share a four-to-six course family-style meal and chat with their neighbours,” says Milligan over coffee at the Dark Horse Espresso Bar on Spadina (ironically not at the café’s communal table). “We started in Vancouver eight months ago and now we’re setting up in Toronto and seeing if we can expand the concept to other cities in North America.”
At 15, Milligan managed to get a job chopping vegetables at the famed but now shuttered Vancouver restaurant Lumiere, which was previously owned by Iron Chef America winner Rob Feenie and later celebrity chef Daniel Boulud, who brought on chef Dale MacKay to run the kitchens. (MacKay later went on to win the first season of Top Chef Canada.) After working his way through high school at Lumiere, Milligan moved to Napa Valley to work at Thomas Keller’s Michelin-rated French Laundry restaurant. Wanting to expand his skill set, Milligan went on to business school but fell back into cooking when he began hosting dinner parties for friends and, subsequently, friends of friends of friends. “When I graduated, I thought of how these parties could be expanded and be made into an actual event, so that’s how The Social Feed got started,” he says.
Milligan began making deals with restaurants based on a simple premise: He’ll bring in 20 or so diners and chefs get to cook whatever sharing plates they want. At just $28 or $38 (tax and tip included) per person, the dinners are a way to introduce young, cash-strapped diners to restaurants they’ve never been to and meet new people.
While he’s organized about 40 dinners in Vancouver, his Toronto operation is only a month old. So far, there have been dinners at Czehoski, Marben and another (sold-out) one at The Drake Hotel next week. In February, there will be additional dinners at Marben and Czehoski. “We look for up-and-coming, independently owned restaurants that are more on the casual side and don’t really have the white tablecloths,” Milligan says. To sign up, diners simply go to The Social Feed’s website, browse through the participating restaurants and their menus, and then buy their tickets online.
“The price point is similar to going out with a friend for a regular dinner on a Wednesday night,” Milligan says. “The difference here is that you can strike up conversations with other people and share food that’s not on the regular menu.”
As for other cities, Milligan is thinking of taking The Social Feed to Montreal as well as cities like Denver, Austin and Portland. “Rather than going to the biggest cities, like New York, we want to focus on places with a burgeoning dining scene and help people discover great places, like an online guide on good places to eat. The idea is to grow The Social Feed in each city and have three or four dinners each week.
“Torontonians are really interested in food and way ahead of the game in Canada. It’s great that there’s an excitement in the city and see publications featuring food and local restaurants on the cover. That’s why we’re here. If there’s the opportunity to expand elsewhere, yes we’ll look into it, but for now I’m just happy to be here.”