Dumbo Start-up Watch: Underground Eats

The underground dining scene is about knowing the right people and meeting like minded people to experience something unique. Part DIY, part enabler, and all serious-food-start-up site, Underground Eats gives you access to these professional chefs, food lovers, and unique dining seekers. Underground Eats provides diners keys to culinary experiences by offering access to exclusive and interesting dining events. Underground Eats enables chefs to generate new revenue while broadening their fan base and raising their profile in the industry. Diners enjoy specialty meals and events with the kind of access previously reserved for VIPs.

The NYT published an article about an underground dining experience aboard the L subway, where the diners had a thrill of a fine dining experience on a train. While Underground Eats may not (or may) have listings for a secret subway dinner experience, the site brings like minded people together for an experiential event. While for some, the location of a restaurant with a particular chef is important for dining, every diner and chef will treasure is the “WHO” they experienced with – and this is what Underground Eats facilitates.

We caught up with founder of Dumbo-based Underground Eats, Harris Damashek about his new venture:

DNY: We’ve been to a few ‘underground’ dining events in Dumbo in the past. If I hadn’t known the organizers or the chefs, I would never hear about them. Unless you work at or attend classes at Brooklyn Kitchen, The Meat Hook, or 3rd Ward, these culinary events aren’t very public. Do you see more events happening in Dumbo, and Brooklyn in general?

Harris: The amount of activity in this genre of dining is accelerating quickly, and with good reason – Especially here in Brooklyn. The borough is a hotbed of creativity in New York and as a result of the creative capital based here, and the energy they bring to their endeavors it is an especially hospitable environment for innovative dining. These experiences encompass so many categories: everything from one-night-only pop-ups, to regularly occurring supper clubs, to larger community and philanthropic events, to festivals, competitions and to smaller friends and family events. It is clear to us that the be-all and end-all of dining is certainly not your home or local restaurant.

DNY: What’s your vision for Underground Eats?

Harris: Our goal is to evangelize and empower chefs and diners to find each other and interact in new, exciting and experiential ways. Chefs don’t belong behind a swinging door to the kitchen. Diners want to interact. Food has always been, and always will be a galvanizing force among people. What we have seen is that Underground or Alternative Dining cultivates an experience that is so much larger than a meal. People forge bonds, find common ground and usually laugh. A lot. To us, this is the glue of civilization and humanity at its best. We want to lead by example and be the shepherds of a new era of dining — one that is more than the sum of its parts. But food is always the central organizing element, because at the end of the day, you don’t really get to know someone before breaking bread together.

DNY: UGE hosted a pop-up event on September 20, called BDGA Kitchen, a collaboration with the new visionary restaurant in Bedstuy Brooklyn, Do or Dine. It was a one-night-only exclusive experience celebrating the intersection of fine dining and the keystone of every NYC neighborhood: the bodega. Not only did Justin Warner, the brilliant chef of Do or Dine create a memorable 10 course meal, but he performed his signature rap about the wines (YouTube video from another event). UGE’s business model is not necessarily about hosting pop-up dining events, but encouraging others to push the envelope on how food is prepared and presented. How can you top this pop-up dining experience?

Harris: Our launch event was a revelation. After months of preparation and going to all kinds of food events, and gaining some girth in the process, myself and the team went to dinner one night at Do or Dine. For someone reason, we just knew these were the guys to create our first experience with. They were new enough, fun enough and visionary enough to match our goals. We settled on the BDGA Kitchen concept not only because we thought it was a somewhat irreverent and intriguing concept, but also because one of the facts of city living, particularly in nabes like Bed-Stuy, is that people often shop at bodegas out of necessity. It isn’t bad or doesn’t have to be, I guess was the commentary. We had Colt .45s, paired cocktails like the Gin ‘n’ Juice, canapés and six courses of insanity that the team at Do Or Dine dreamed up. We had Uni on Plaintain Chips with orange soda and Slim Jim gastrique, Hamachi TiraDoritos featuring Cool Ranch Doritos and Scallops with Cherry Brown Butter, crystallized vanilla and Lime Cool Aid. We had a DJ, a bodega photography exhibit, a custom-made bodega fully-stocked with candy and loosies and a video installation, not to mention a rousing rap rendition of Chateau Neuf du Pape by Chef Justin Warner (to the tune of “Drop it Like it’s Hot), which was as much history lesson as alcohol-fueled hilarity. We had journalists, bloggers, chefs, foodies, friends and fiends. All I can say is we ran out of Colt .45 in the first hour and ran — where else? To a bodega to restock!

For our next events we’re thinking of all kinds of things and talking to all kinds of chefs. I think for now, all we can say we are “bullish on castles.”

(Photos of the BDGA Kitchen event courtesy of Underground Eats)

Congrats to the team at Underground Eats! We’re looking forward to the formal launch of the website in early 2012. To get access to innovative food events when they launch, sign up on Undergroundeats.com.