Grace Park is the owner of The Kitchen Table, an event space in New York’s Little Italy. Grace opened the space in February 2014, drawing on her experience in restaurant and hotel design. We asked Grace about her first seven months in business, the changes she has seen in the restaurant and hospitality industries, and how people are thinking about food and entertaining.
How did The Kitchen Table get started?
I came up with this idea because I was trying to plan my boyfriend’s 30th birthday. I was just looking for a place where we could host this dinner party, and could cook for ourselves. I looked on Airbnb, but no matter how big the lofts or the apartments are, nobody has a table for twenty or twenty-six people. It would have ended up costing way more than we wanted to spend.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a place where people could hang out and it feels like home? Where you could have a dinner party and not have to clean up? You just leave. You wake up in the morning and you don’t have glasses everywhere. You don’t have to do dishes for four days.
Did you ever want to get involved in the restaurant business?
No, but I worked for a couple years in event production, so I got to know that side of things. [The Kitchen Table] is just an event space, but we have relationships with some of the best vendors in the city. So, we’re a resource for a lot of our clients who come to us and say “we want to do this great dinner party, but we don’t know where to start.”
What do your private clients generally look like?
Generally, it’s some sort of big celebration. It’s either a wedding or a birthday. We have not had a single rehearsal dinner, which is surprising to me, but we have had quite a few very small weddings. I have a soft spot for weddings. I love being part of such a special and intimate celebration and am always honored when people choose us as their venue. We actually have one today, and they’re using Linda Sarris, one of our favorite Kitchensurfing chefs.
So, the kinds of events where people would rent private rooms at restaurants, rather than big banquet halls.
Why do you think restaurants are looking more and more like home kitchens?
I started in the restaurant and hotel design industry in 2006, and the communal table and open kitchen was becoming a trendy thing—even the super high end restaurants incorporating it. The most sought after dining experiences were no longer about having a white tablecloth and a waiter standing by. It became more about knowing the chef, seeing your food being cooked and knowing where it came from.
In New York—where apartment kitchens are so small, ovens are used for storage—a lot of people don’t cook at home. I think they consider the city’s restaurants their kitchens. At the end of the day dining out is a communal experience with friends and family. There will always be a place for very formal service, but I think people really just want to feel comfortable and like they can just stay a while.
Can you break down how the economics of the space work, versus how a restaurant would be running a catering and events wing?
So, restaurants make their money off of food and beverage, and not really space rental. We’re kind off the opposite: we make no money on food and beverage. We try to keep it as simple as possible. We actually have no staff—it’s just me, and then we hire staff as needed—if we have an event, we’ll hire people, and that’s actually billed to the client. We’ve had people approach us and say “if we can be your primary caterer, we’ll give you a certain percentage.” Something about that feels weird to me, kind of old school.
What have the highlights from your first seven months been?
Surprisingly, people approach us a lot for video and photo shoots, which is fantastic. There’s lots of stuff that comes up that I had never even thought of. We have clients that come to us to do off-sites. We had Vogue shoot here with Blake Lively. We filmed for “Moveable Feast,” which is a PBS show that follows two chefs around for a day. They go shopping and explore the neighborhood, and they bring it back and they cook for their friends. We get these really cool people who come through here and bring in their own business.
What has the success of your space taught you about hosting great dinners?
There are a few things I’ve learned that make hosting much easier:
Be prepared, you don’t want to be scrambling to get things ready a few minutes before invite time. Set the table and have the music ready (we love the Talking Heads Pandora station), and make sure you have time to freshen up and have a glass of wine before your guests arrive.
Decor is important, but you don’t need to spend a lot. A few bunches of single-color flowers and a lot of unscented candles make any space work. Do splurge on a nice set of cloth napkins though; they dress up any dinner party.
How do you and your clients fit into our current food and hospitality industries?
I think people are looking for a different experience. New York has a billion restaurants, and I think people are realizing that to have a private chef you don’t have to be a billionaire. I think people are expanding their ideas of what the food world is, and how they can be a little bit closer to it. They’re getting more curious. We’re seeing a lot of new, food-related careers and people who are turning their food hobbies into full-time jobs. Food has a way of bringing out the entrepreneur in people!
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Photo courtesy of The Kitchen Table.