How we got started...

When you get thousands of people from the internet to have dinner with each other on some stranger's living room floor, you get a lot of great stories. People are on their best behavior, they freely ask and answer questions, and they figure out how they're already related.

For the record, I never had a single uncomfortable situation, never had an unruly guest and never even broke a glass in the dining room, except when we were banging on them in unison with spoons playing along with a musician. At least two relationships that met at The Ghet have led to marriage, and who knows how many random hook-ups. I've tried not to think about the endless ripple that radiates from these events.

In the beginning, I was just having fun, but people kept telling me how much they appreciated "the service." A desire grew to promote this kind of event. I wanted more people to have this experience. When we got started, there were two or three similar online social dining projects, and in October of 2007, the New York Post did an article that covered 15 in the NYC-area alone.

After four years of organizing an average of an event and a half a week, I'm excited to pursue some new projects, and I'm proud to open up the Ghetto Gourmet as a Dinnerparty Network where people can make and meet food-loving friends, post and share menus, recipes, photos, videos and stories and learn more about social dining alternatives.
We began as a Monday night "pirate restaurant" in a basement apartment in Oakland, CA in early 2004. It was my brother Joe's apartment. He was 21, and he was cooking 6 nights a week on the line of one of the best restaurants in San Francisco. We did a dinner party nearly every Monday night in 2004, seating 12-15 guests on floor cushions for a tasting menu with free two-buck chuck and Miller Highlife, the champagne of beers.

Vera Devera, who later became my marketing consultant and local SF coordinator, came to almost every one of them. We invited our friends, stopped people on the sidewalk, chatted up folks in the checkout line and ultimately placed a creative little ad on Craigslist. A mailing list was born.

In March 2005, Joe followed a girl and a dream up to Portland, and I kept doing GG events in my shared Craftsman home on the Berkeley/Oakland border, seating up to 45 guests at low tables fashioned from old closet doors. I was lucky enough to start working with a number of performers and talented chefs, primarily Chef Cynthia Washburn, who embodied the creative sense of flavor, presentation and fearless attitude at the heart of the Ghetto Gourmet.

In January of 2006, after appearing on the front page of the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle, we got a visit from an Alameda County health inspector. I was setting the house up for about 45 dinner guests, and even though i explained that I personally knew all of them, he said it looked a little funny to be serving that many people every Monday night in my own house. I asked him if I could invite my friends to have dinner in other people's homes, and he said he didn't care, he was "just responding to a noise complaint".
I haven't organized an event in my own house since. I started taking the GG show on the road, organizing BYOB tasting menus with entertainment in homes, galleries, warehouses and other creative spaces all over the San Francisco Bay Area.

In June of 2006, I took the GG down to LA with Chef Cyn, comedian Kamau Bell, my friend Christian Brooks and the unprecedented and totally unexpected Dave as-seen-on-tv Kim.

In November of 2006, Cyn and I made our way to the East Coast doing a completely wild series of events in Lower Manhattan. By mid-2007, I had made the GG's way to Chicago, Miami, Tampa and Nashville, including eight tours to Los Angeles and an extended stay in New York City.

There were talks of book deals and TV shows, but The Ghetto Gourmet was never about getting rich or getting famous. It was about doing something different, meeting new friends and "making the world a better place." It's been a great success, and I've made a ton of mistakes. I've learned more doing this than anything else in my life.

With the help of many generous and talented people, I organized more than 300 dining events and personally shook the hands of 7,000 adventurous and curious foodies. And while it wasn't always perfect, the vast majority of our guests were pleasantly blown away by what we did and how we did it.

I look forward to making a fun and resourceful place for collaborative, social dining, and I can't wait to see what yall got cooking.

Eat right, have fun and be well.
And remember, hold on to your fork!!!

Jeremy Townsend, Founder and Director
January 2008

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Ladies enjoying the meals they have created

This was a singles cooking party, but the guys never showed up because it was raining, so the ladies made it into a ladies night out, so much fun. #simplycaribbean #trinisoulcooking
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