Secret parties in secret —and often exclusive — locations may sound like Friday night for the jet-set crowd. But in San Francisco, it’s just a matter of getting on the right list: the mailing list for Stag Dining. “We throw great parties,” their website proclaims, and when you browse the gallery of parties past, it’s hard to disagree.
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Emory Al-Imam, Ted Fleury, Jordan Grosser, Matthew Homyak and Anil Margsahayam have been friends since college, drawn together in part by a shared love of art and food. Grosser and Fleury are the experienced chefs behind the dinners; Al-Imam has spent years working in the tech sector, Homyak worked in high-end retail before moving into clean tech and sustainability, and Margsahayam is an actor, writer, singer and producer.
These five founders have a lot of things to juggle; payroll isn’t one of them. We asked Margsahayam to tell us more about what brought Stag Dining together and the draw of what they call “nomadic dining.”
What inspired Stag Dining?
We wanted to do something different. I met Jordan and Ted in college, and even then they would cook up late night feasts that brought people together for a communal dining experience—which I’ve always loved.
We always knew we wanted to work together at some point, and three years ago we created that opportunity: we wanted to recreate that communal experience.
It all started with the Clandestine Dinner Series, a supper club concept that we use to share excellent cuisine, local art and sustainably sourced ingredients in a festive, sophisticated atmosphere. The dinner series is still at the heart of what we do, even though we’ve expanded to other catering and events.
Why a supper club with the “nomadic dining” concept?
These dinners give us a blank canvas to put together a really memorable production; the menu and venue change every time, which lets us share an experience with others that celebrate the things we’re passionate about.
We’ve held events at historic mansions, art galleries, shooting ranges. [Editor’s note: Read about one diner’s “Going Stag” experience at former San Francisco mayoral candidate Chicken John’s lair.]
I’m an actor, and I’ve found that dining and the stage are both theatre. That’s how we approach our events. It’s not just a great dinner—it’s an experience.
What’s your most interesting dinner been so far?
Our biggest event so far was a foodie/concert production on the SS Jeremiah O’Brian, a World War II Liberty ship. We had 500 people onboard to dine on gourmet mess hall cuisine, served by the Stags and other local chefs—including celebrated chef Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese.
We had food battle stations and partnered with 15 Romolo to do the cocktails; Reggie Watts, Not Tom Cruise and the Bayonics kept the crowd moving throughout the evening. It was particularly memorable to me because we almost had to move our plans below deck; when we got to the ship at 6 a.m. to set up, it was pouring rain! But it cleared up, and we had a great night outside.
What are your big plans for 2014?
I can’t reveal too much, but we’re really excited to continue to push the envelope with the type of experiences we offer—whether it’s our clandestine dining or corporate events.
We don’t do traditional catering; everything we do is unique, from the menu, to the bar, to the actual location. It’s fun to be able to work with different people and really blow out events.
How does Gusto fit into your business?
Our acting chief financial officer mentioned Gusto; we were looking for a payroll service. From the first time I saw Gusto’s website, I was impressed—it’s just the way I like to do things: clear, simple, not complicated. Very zen, actually.
In terms of other vendors I trust I use Eventbrite and MailChimp quite a bit, and I also really like Gusto’s recent integration with FreshBooks.