East Bay Express: Underground Dining Goes Online
A year ago, Amanda Yee and a dozen of her neighbors began gathering every month for an informal dinner party, bringing together folks of diverse cultures, ages, and tastes to share a meal. So when Yee heard about Feastly (EatFeastly.com), a new website that markets private dinners to the greater public, she decided to join, becoming one of the first to host an event in her home — a post-First Friday midnight snack of French fries topped with carne asada and hollandaise sauce, plus a savory milkshake that included duck fat and crunchy waffle bits. One of her neighbors, eight friends, and four strangers paid $19.80 each for the experience, and although she didn't make any money on the meal, Yee was hooked on the concept.
"I truly believe in the idea of the table and using it as a means of building community," said Yee, who studied at Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco and works for Oakland chef/food-justice advocate Bryant Terry. At her next dinner, which will be another late-night meal after First Friday on April 5, Yee will serve a modified version of Terry's recipe for jung (a Chinese version of a tamale), Persian lamb pho, and sheep ricotta pancake fritters with a peanut butter Sriracha dip for $22 per person.
Feastly launched in Washington, DC in November 2011. Founder Noah Karesh came up with the idea after traveling through Guatemala. Fed up with bad tourist food, he had found the most authentic meal of his entire trip at the home of a kid who was selling avocados in a market.
Karesh modeled Feastly after Airbnb, an online marketplace that offers private homes as alternatives to hotel rooms, and the sites work similarly: Diners scroll through a list of available meals that include details such as dietary restrictions. Anyone can sign up to join a meal, but hosting is still invite-only and requires a formal approval process. Also like Airbnb, Feastly makes a profit by taking a cut from each transaction — in this case, by a 10-percent service charge onto the cost of the meal and taking 10-percent of the total amount the host makes.