By Carly DeFilippo
From food trucks to pop-ups, the food world has expanded both where and how we like to eat. With supper clubs, there’s a dining adventure for every appetite: chef-driven supper clubs, art-focused supper clubs, anti-food waste supper clubs and so much more. But how many of these business ventures survive the test of time?
In the case of ICE Culinary Arts alum Jenny Dorsey, co-founder and chef of the supper club I Forgot It’s Wednesday (IFIW), these DIY dinners have been a catalyst for sustained culinary success. With the press and connections she has gained from IFIW, Jenny has been able to start a culinary consulting practice and is currently planning to launch a food incubator for projects focused on culinary experiences, rather than food products.
Before Jenny was the host of one of the country’s most exciting dinner parties, she was a management consultant in the fast-paced world of NYC fashion and luxury goods. “I was working on a lot of ‘sexy’ projects, attending fashion parties and my friends were envious of the discounts I could get on clothes. It probably seemed like a dream job, but truthfully I was really unhappy,” explains Jenny.
Searching for an exit strategy, Jenny applied for an MBA program at Columbia Business School. Once she was accepted, she realized she had just enough time to squeeze in another one of her dreams—attending culinary school—before earning her MBA. “The average person would have kept their job and earned a bit more money before grad school,” says Jenny, “but I had taken a bunch of recreational classes at ICE and really enjoyed the experience. Once I saw that I could finish the professional culinary program in just six months, I knew I had to make it happen.”
Jenny graduated from the Culinary Arts program three days before starting school at Columbia, and the transition was harder than she expected. “I had such a great time in culinary school. The people I met made a deep impact on my life, and when I went to business school, I wasn’t making the same type of connections.”
After one semester at Columbia, Jenny left the program and joined the research and development team at Le Pain Quotidien. At the same time, she began dating one of her business school peers, Matt Dorsey, who boasted some impressive amateur cocktail skills. Together, the pair began hosting supper clubs for friends as a creative outlet. “Matt and I started the supper club in January of 2014, primarily as a way to spark great conversations. In business school, people always reverted to ‘what do you do, where do you work’—and we wanted to get beyond that. The core idea would be that people could escape their lives in the middle of the week—to the point where they would ‘forget that it’s Wednesday,’” Jenny explains. During the first few dinners, it became clear that guests were also craving meaningful ways to meet new people, motivating the pair to consider IFIW as a viable business venture.
Yet the two still had plenty to learn when it came to the dinner logistics. “The first dinner was super chaotic—especially because one of our friends brought a Village Voice reporter. I’ll be honest, the first six months were really tough. We didn’t advertise anywhere outside of social media and occasionally through MeetUp, so we were hustling to get people in the door. But then we did a pop-up for 100 people in the Old Bowery Station space that helped get our name out there and things started to pick up.”
After their first pop-up, Jenny and Matt both found opportunities at tech companies in San Francisco and ventured west. Outside of her day job, Jenny pursued opportunities in fine dining, such as volunteering at Michelin-starred restaurant SPQR. Bringing her new skills to the table, Jenny relaunched I Forgot It’s Wednesday and caught the attention of 7×7 magazine.
“When we got the mention in 7×7, things got crazy. Our mailing list jumped to 1,000 people overnight,” says Jenny. “Once we had the audience, we were able to raise our price point a bit and professionalize the evening’s service and hospitality.”
The pair returned to NYC in August of 2015, at which point Jenny received the Bocuse d’Or Ment’or scholarship, which provided her a full-time position at two-Michelin-star restaurant Atera. From there, she launched her own consulting business and refocused on the supper club. With success in San Francisco, IFIW earned an east coast press hit from Urban Daddy, and the NYC iteration of the supper club has been selling out ever since. Today, guests experience seven courses, four cocktails, coffee and tea service in a secret location. Jenny and Matt also curate personalized experiences for various clients, from Fair Trade USA to Deloitte, in addition to hosting food- and drink-centric workshops each month.
Over the course of her professional journey, Jenny has found the ICE community to be a constant support in her development as a chef. “You will always need to supplement school with real-world experience, but as a career changer, I really appreciated having formal training before I went into the kitchen. It’s been cool to be a part of the alumni community and have the chance to come back and take professional development classes. Because when you’re in a restaurant kitchen, you’re exposed to advanced techniques, but you don’t necessarily have the time to stop and learn why someone is doing something in a certain way.”
As for other entrepreneurial-minded students, Jenny has a simple piece of advice: “If you want to do something, you should do it. A million people are going to say no, it’s a bad idea, etc. I even had a PR expert tell me that ‘no one was going to write about us.’” Clearly, she has proven the naysayers wrong.
Eager to explore your entrepreneurial side? Click here for free information about ICE’s Culinary Management program.