Jennifer Jane and Ryan "Chef Houla" Houlihan run the speakeasy Wolf 'n' Swallow (www.facebook.com/wolfnswallow), a monthly dinner party with changing themes at a French Quarter location. Last month's dinner featured Southeast Asian dishes, and the next event (Nov. 17) will focus on autumn flavors. Jane and Houlihan spoke with Gambit about their project.
How does the dinner setup work?
Jane: We start off with a cocktail and ask everyone to introduce themselves, which helps to get everyone mingling. Then we invite everyone to sit down, and people can sit wherever they want. It's super casual. It's as if you had a dinner party at your own house and you have people that haven't met each other before. We get super excited when someone buys a ticket that we don't know. It's kind of like half picnic, half intimate home dining experience. Depending on the theme, we dress the table differently. I have a visual arts background, so I have a lot of fun putting together the space and trying to create a unique environment.
Houlihan: Because of the way the tables are set up, no matter what, you're going to be near people you don't know. We usually have some friends that know each other, but it's still nice for others to feel integrated into it. I'll come out and introduce myself and talk about what (food) there is, what I sourced locally and how I built it. We put a menu out beforehand, but there are always a few things that change, depending on what's available and in season. ... Our next meal is all about fall flavors, so we're making a deviled duck egg with some blackened maple sausage, some Brussels sprouts slaw and local microgreens on top.
Why a speakeasy instead of a pop-up?
J: When (Houlihan) and I got together and fell in love, he started making me food and I just saw a light bulb go off in his head. I could tell he was the happiest when he was cooking. I've been (working) in the film business and am kind of an entrepreneur, so we brainstormed for a long time about different things to do but decided to start with this.
H: I've done a few pop-ups around town. I did food at Mick's Irish Pub and at Pal's (Lounge) and a few in front of the Voodoo Lounge. This was a way to incorporate that (experience) and do something a little different.
We call it a speakeasy because we felt like "supper club" wasn't quite right and pop-up was too informal. But a speakeasy is about having people in, being inviting and having people relax. It's much easier than running a pop-up. We'll cut off (ticket) sales the Tuesday before (the dinner), and I'll go shopping that night for what I need. With a pop-up, I would just prep a bunch of food and hope I sell it. I had times where I was losing money, I had times where I was making money, but I never really knew. This way I can prepare, and have a better idea of what I need for the night.
Following Dinner Lab's folding, do you see a model for successful supper clubs?
J: It's a toss-up as to whether that model would be beneficial for us. We've talked about moving it up so that we'd do (events) every other week instead of once a month. What I like about it is that we're always meeting different people, and it's always a different experience.
Our prices range from around $30 to $60. I like being able to vary the price, because not everyone can afford to spend $50.
H: I would think there would be a future for (events like these) and I appreciate the idea that Dinner Lab had ... but I would never want to go that way with ours. ... We like to keep it affordable. I like giving everyone the chance to come.