What to do when you love food, but hate the restaurant business

These guys look serious, and they are when it comes to food. But otherwise, they're really fun.  |  Photo by 2nd Truth Photography

These guys look serious, and they are when it comes to food. But otherwise, they're really fun.  |  Photo by 2nd Truth Photography

Husband and wife Matt Kappra and Megan Sheridan were living the dream. Cool condo, exciting and fast-paced jobs (Megan, a marketing manager; Matt, a chef who’s worked at some of Minneapolis’s best restaurants). They ate great dinners out and probably spent all their money on fancy craft cocktails and concerts (er… shows), because isn’t that what all of us millennials do? But surprise! They felt unfulfilled and exhausted.

So they decided to open a weekly secret supper club at their Northeast Minneapolis home. It’s pretty straightforward: Matt and Megan create a dinner for 10 every Monday night. Want to attend? Great, you just go online and buy a ticket. The caveat is you don’t know what you’ll be eating or who you’ll be eating with (unless you buy a ticket for your date, which is totally cool... then you'll only be eating with eight strangers). As someone who’s experienced 320 Northeast, I promise you it will be fun, the food is fantastic and even comes with a beautifully handwritten place card and menu at each seat. A nice touch!

320 Northeast has become successful enough that Megan and Matt quit their jobs to focus solely on the project. Here’s how it all went down.

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Before we get into what 320 Northeast is, how’d you get here? I can only assume you have some sort of food background.

Matt: During high school, I started working at Olive Garden in the suburbs of Chicago.

Megan: I think he still has those ties.

Matt: I was running food, serving and whatnot. I always wanted to make a transition to the back of the house. [While in college at St. Thomas], a few friends and I played in a summer softball league in St Paul. Our team was sponsored by the Groveland Tap, so we’d be there Monday nights. Jeremy and the guys who opened the Blue Door Pub were in the process of leaving [Groveland Tap], and I’d built a relationship with them. I’d expressed interest my interest in cooking… and they asked if I wanted to come and flip burgers at the Blue Door my senior year. It just kind of went from there.

Megan: And then he basically only did restaurant openings.

Matt:  I opened the Blue Door, then I opened Loring Kitchen and Bar, then I did the Barrio Edina opening, then I helped start a farm. Then, I came back and did the Butcher and The Boar opening. So after four years of doing nothing but openings, I landed at Lucia’s and did a year there, then took over the Barrio kitchen, then back to Lucia’s.

Megan: And as of last Saturday, he’s officially done at Lucia's.

Matt: Yep, so we’re both done, and it’s just this.


By just this, you mean your home supper club, 320 Northeast. How do you like doing your own thing?

Matt: Megan stopped working two months ago, but I am still figuring out my routine. When we started the business, I was still at my job, so it was pretty much working straight through. I’d have to work all week and then prep on a Sunday for another Monday dinner. It was nonstop for two months, so it’s nice to relax and recharge.


Why did you decide to create 320 Northeast?

Matt: It’s kind of a long story. We were just so over the city at one point. So we were going to move up to the country and buy a farm.

Megan: The idea was that we were going to have a restaurant in a home on the farm.

Matt: We went out and checked out some farms. And we realized we’d have to sell our house and then take on this other huge chunk of debt, and then also be farmers. So we decided to try making it work in our house.

Megan: First, we called up the health department.

Matt: We asked them about the stipulations behind cooking private dinners in your home. We went through all the hoops and sussed out what we need to do to make this legal and legitimate. And then we just leapt. In three weeks we overhauled our house.


What so special about 320 Northeast?

Matt: I think it’s more about curating experience for people. You’re going into a home to eat with strangers and you don’t know what you’ll be eating. It’s actually one way we weed people out, ultimately. A lot of people aren’t willing to make that leap. We spent a lot of time figuring out how to create an overall experience that forces people out of themselves a little bit.

Megan: That’s how we found our way to this. It was through loving food and sharing that experience with other humans. That’s what made us hate the restaurant business. All the inner workings, and all the sacrifices you make as far as where you get ingredients. It’s a tight game, [financially]. At a certain point, we stopped enjoying eating at restaurants because it didn’t feel meaningful.  

Plating spinach salads like a boss. |  Photo by 2nd Truth Photography

Plating spinach salads like a boss. |  Photo by 2nd Truth Photography


What’s the concept with the food?

Megan: We only have one set of boundaries, and it’s that the food comes from here, meaning however far I’m willing to drive. We have a cider guy that’s two-and-a-half hours south, so if are heading down there, we’ll spend a whole day.

Matt: We don’t write menus ahead of time, it’s always based on what’s available. Everyone has access to everything now. Access is just one click away. You can get any ingredient you want any time of the year. We’re moving away from that.

Megan: We don’t have a culture that’s built around foods and seasons becauce we don’t have to.

Matt: We’re not saying it’s terrible to eat that way and you shouldn’t do it. And you simply can’t cook like that in a restaurant. Even at a place like Lucia’s. There’s a volume that you do and you need enough product for that. With [320 Northeast], we’re in a position where we can do that.

We spend a lot of our time meeting farmers. A lot of our model is based on what farmers are trying to get rid of. I think a lot of people don’t realize that there is a huge excess of ingredients on farms. We partnered with a farm last year to do a bunch of canning and preserving with all their excess.


How have you transitioned from two incomes to relying solely on 320 Northeast? How many dinners are you hosting?

Megan: We’ve shrunk our lives and cut how we spend money on the random shit we’d buy when we had our big, fancy jobs. Typically, we do at least two private dinners, plus the Monday night dinners. So it’s about six dinners a month. It’s funny… people keep asking us what’s the real plan? Okay, that’s offensive. I had someone say to me yesterday, that’s interesting that you call this your business. But it is our business. It sustains us.

Matt: The reason we left our jobs was while we had money, we didn’t have the balance. You’re constantly working and always buying shit, but never using it. You’re just working all the time. For us, it got to the point where we had to ask ourselves, what’s enough? We started this to figure out how to make it enough for us. Honestly, we don’t need to be any bigger at this point. Where we’re at right now is enough for us. We’re happy and balanced. We can cook a couple dinners together a week and be happy and spend lots of time together. So that’s the big thing. When people ask, what are you really going to do?, honestly, we don’t know. We don’t have the answer to that. Enough for us to be happy and live.

Megan: And I think people like that story and want to be a part of it. People don’t really know what we’re doing here. We don’t broadcast it. So when people sign up for one of our dinners, it tells me that they’re interested in our story. The fact that people are talking about it is just crazy to me.

Matt: We’re just trying to cook simple food in a place we love and that’s really all there is to it. We’re not trying to be fancy, we’re not trying to blow people’s minds. We’re providing a place for people to step outside of themselves, put their phone down and have conversations.


What’s next for you?

Megan: Well… I think we actually have a space.

Matt: It’s literally a block from our house. Can we talk about that yet? No? Here’s what I will say. It’ll still be the same format, it will still be private, so it’s literally the same experience that we have at our house right now. Except it will not be at our house. It’ll be on the top floor of a building with a beautiful view of the city. The nice thing about it is that it’s actually a commercial space.

Megan: We’re not moving because that’s what we need for it to be legal, but I think it’s just going to be easier to run a business next to other businesses versus trying to run a business out of our home.

Matt: There’s lots of rules that come with an association that are very limiting.

Megan: We’re really looking forward to having a six-burner gas range, too.


Wait, what do you have now?

Matt: Currently, we’re working with a four-burner electric stove. That’s it.

Megan: And we’re hoping to have a pantry space that doubles as a farmers market. Legally, anyone in Minneapolis can just be a farmers market. When we finally get to point where we’re producing extra, I’m hoping will be able to sell preserves or some of our vinegar projects. We’re just really excited about the space and I think it’s going to be a great thing to help us keep growing.


When do you plan on moving into that space?

Megan: The second week of June. May 18th is the last day we’ve sold at our house, so the plan is to take the first two weeks and…

Matt: Go on vacation.

Megan: Yes, definitely. Take a vacation. And then we’re going to get the place painted and get everything together. We figure we have three to five years to do what we're doing. At some point, other people will start doing this, too. And at some point, restaurants will start getting annoyed with the fact that we are doing this under the radar. And at some point, there will be pressure to make laws about it. So I feel like this is our window.

Matt: We’re constantly calling the health department and everything else, checking to see if this is still cool. We’re really trying to create the most legitimate business we can so that when we need to be something else, we’ll have all our ducks in a row. Right now, we’re in kind of a gray area and it’s risky because you never know.

Megan: What we have now is really not the end game, ultimately. There’s probably going to be a chapter two and a chapter three. Hopefully, a whole book.


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Want to check out 320 Northeast? Of course you do! Sign up for their completely non-spammy newsletter to hear about upcoming dinners. Want to see pics of their delicious and pretty food? Follow them on Instagram & tumblr.

Check out other Quitters here.

Did you quit your career to be a stay at home parent? Are you trying to quit complaining? Did you quit a religion? How about Scientology? Let's talk about it! Email me at heyeleanorproject@gmail.com.