Our team at Mocha Club loves working and living in Nashville, Tennessee – a place known for it’s community and the inspiration from it’s members. These individuals are the best in their craft and we want to share them with you! This blog series features locals that inspire us through their unique/beautiful/innovative…we could go on and on..approach to life, business and community. We love their businesses and want to showcase them in this new series – where simply, we want to inspire others by what inspires us.
1. What motivated you to start your business, and how has it grown since it began?
My friend Simoni and I were introduced because we shared a common vision for hosting dinners, and within months of meeting, we were hosting the first Common Table together. When I moved to Nashville in May 2012, table culture was on the rise, and pop-up dinners and supper clubs were showing up everywhere. As someone who loves sharing food and the community that inevitably unfolds around it, I wanted in. But we never saw hosting dinners as an opportunity to create community as much as we did an opportunity to showcase Nashville’s community in a way that invited people to love it even more. We wanted, more than anything, to celebrate what we already believed was so great about Nashville: the food scene, the music scene, the various artists behind it, and the people who show up to appreciate it.
When we started Common Table, we threw 50 people we knew (or knew of) into a hat and drew 10 out. Those 10 were the first guests, and they were all our friends. Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to host almost 200 others, many of whom have been complete strangers. With that, we’ve stuck to doing dinners bimonthly, with 10 guests at each one, and we’ve loved it that way. Our team members all work full-time, so we budget to break even, and see our contributions as a way to serve our neighbors in a really unique and meaningful way. We occasionally do private catering for likeminded businesses and organizations, and we’re currently working on a publication that will highlight recipes and stories from the last 3 years, but the heart of what we do is still setting that table for 10, and we’re grateful that Nashvillians keep putting their name in the hat to be a part of it.
2. How has the Nashville community embraced your business?
As if we weren’t enough already, we’re more amazed than ever at the quality of people living in Nashville. Over the last three years, the amount of name submissions to join our dinners have grown every time we’ve announce one. And our guests are not only friends of friends anymore, they’re a diverse community of people who are drawn to Common Table for a variety of reasons, whether an appreciation for beauty, love of food, the opportunity to meet new faces, or just plain curiosity. We love that we live in a city that is constantly growing and attracting people who value new experiences.
Beyond our guests, we’ve been so honored by the tens of artists, designers, stylists, and hosts in Nashville who have cheerfully offered their talents and time to help make each of our gatherings beautifully unique and special. Every gathering is truly a team effort, celebrating a creative community that values collaboration over competition.
3. Is there any way that your business has given back, to the community or in some other way?
Our hope is that each gathering feels like a gift to the guests in our community. As I mentioned, we don’t make a profit from Common Table, because we never really saw it as a business idea as much as a way to give back. Most people don’t know this, but because we do things this way, it allows us to keep our dinner costs at an approachable price, and we love being able to do that! We all love our full-time jobs, and our team of friends truly sees it as a joy to be able to serve our neighbors together in this really unique way every couple of months. The act is our reward, and we hope that in some small way, it blesses people as much as its blessed us to be able to do it.
4. What is special about the way you bring people together and why do you do it this way?
Well for one, we kind of let fate choose our guests. We allow anyone who lives in Nashville to submit their name and then we draw 10 of them at random from a hat. One of the things Simoni and I knew we didn’t want to do when we started dreaming about Common Table was create something exclusive—that market was already covered. So that’s when the magic hat idea was born. Our long-term goal was to host as many new people as possible and create a space where all types of people felt welcome. We also keep the size of our dinners down to 10 guests so that the experience is intimate enough for people to relax and be able to bond in a really authentic way. Each dinner is hosted in a different home, which is a blast. It’s fun to always be working with a new space and being able to partner with people who love to host people as much as we do. Again, it’s truly a team effort!
Once people are at the table, we ask them to go around and introduce themselves and share how they ended up in Nashville. From there, we leave it up to them. There are a few conversation starters placed in the middle of the table, and we encourage them to pull one at the beginning of each course if they feel inspired, or to just keep enjoying one another without them. What continually amazes me is that I have never really heard an awkward silence take place. Something about choosing to actively be with one another around the table really makes it easy to connect and oftentimes, they sit around laughing and enjoying each other’s company long after we’ve dismissed them. We think that’s the coolest part.
5. Where does all of your recipes and food come from, and why do you buy it from these places?
Our chef, Simoni, could inform you in more detail on this, but we buy local anything that is possible to buy local. Simoni is a full-time sous chef at Josephine in 12 South, and even prior to that, has always worked in farm-to-table restaurants, so his knowledge and appreciation for local ingredients is evident in every meal. Some of the farms we consistently buy from are Delvin Farms, Green Door Gourmet, Bear Creek Farms, Hatcher Dairy, and Noble Springs Dairy.
Simoni dreams up every menu, which is usually themed around what’s seasonally available. In warmer months you’ll see a lot of lighter, fresh herbs and produce on the menus, and in the colder months you’ll see a lot of heartier ingredients, like squashes, root vegetables, and roasted meats. But each recipe is innovated by Simoni, and he doesn’t serve a course until he’s mastered it. Many of his ideas are inspired by what he’s working on in the restaurant or reading about in his latest cookbook, and that inspired creativity shines through his presentation of each course. Our hope is that our guests are inspired by his ingredients and drawn to the farms that supply them.