Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Private dining clubs are admittedly strange animals, in that they are not restaurants with doors open to the general public, but you usually are contributing money for the meal. We have had a lot of unsuccessful launches in the TC, mostly due to illegal practices and shady pop-up locations, but I thought 320 Northeast had the right idea.
When Megan Sheridan and her husband Matt Kappra decided to make a run at it, it was lower key, less a glitzy production than a real gathering of strangers for a dinner party. The dinner I had and wrote about was just a very cool night at someone’s house that I would, and did, happily chip in for. They told me before I wrote about them that they had been honest and open with the city of Minneapolis and had written documents of approval that said they could continue to operate, doing what they were doing.
Then the city changed their minds.
Megan sent me a note yesterday that she had been shut down, because the City of Minneapolis had sent in two inspectors as undercover eaters and decided that the place was operating as an unlicensed bar and restaurant. “It’s very weird, there was a gentleman who had been befriending me since last October, trying desperately to get in for dinner. I even put him on a short list of people who got early announcements so they could finally get to attend a dinner. I knew something was weird about him and his ‘mother-in-law,’ who turned out to be the liquor inspector, right when they showed up. But everyone comes to dinner for their own reasons, so we didn’t think much of it until we got a cease and desist notice later that week," Megan said.
The two stipulations that the City of Minneapolis originally gave them as part of approval for operating as a private dining club, was (a) not advertising, and (b) not being open to the public. “We are doing neither of these things. We’ve had some press, but that wasn’t created or paid for by us. It’s just word of mouth, through modern internet standards.” She said when the couple moved the dinners from their home to a rented space, they checked in with the city again, and received written approval. Nothing has changed in their operations since then.
The citation also called into question health and liquor procedures, but held to the standard of a commercial kitchen, not a private kitchen and dining room. Think about a dinner party at your house: Do you have a handwashing sign posted? Does the cook have an open container of alcohol (i.e. drinking a glass of wine)? Have you served your own preserves to guests? Do you have wood beams? Violations all. This isn't about spoiled fish and people getting sick, protection of the population and all that, this is about control. This is about a city government that wants to stop small business innovation, in my humble opinion. They don't want to work with small food people who don't own sports teams or corporations, they seem to want to pass legislation around them and sneak into dinner and shout "it's a trap!" The shouting part didn't really happen, but it feels like it could lately. In a time when big and regulated restaurants aren't making it, why would you stomp on a model that has promise and creativity, one that could help propel the dining scene in new directions? God forbid you work WITH Matt and Megan to form new standards and reach some sort of understanding of how things can work. Nope, fine them, shut them down, wring hands with glee.
320 Northeast is going to fight it.
Megan and Matt have had to abide by the order, “We had to cancel all of our dinners for this month, which was the worst. But when offered a refund or a of transfer of tickets to an unknown date when we figure all this out, almost everyone kept their tickets! We are still on to something here. In my better moments, I know this is just the beginning of whatever is next.”
The next step is a hearing, and we'll keep you up on developments.