National pop-up company launching in Columbus

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave

We've seen no shortage of pop-up eateries around town, from one night only dining events to chefs moving into bar kitchens for an extended stay (think Jailhouse Rock at Little Rock Bar or Katalina's at Oddfellows).

Today, national pop-up restaurant concept Dinner Lab is headed for Columbus, hoping to host roughly 70 one-off dining events at nontraditional locations throughout the year.

Here's how it works: Diners purchase a $125 membership to the dining club, which gives them the chance to buy up to four tickets for each pop-up (typically around $55 per person, which includes alcohol). Five- to 10-course meals are prepared by up-and-coming chefs who are looking for a venue to test new dishes or a restaurant concept. At the end of the meal, the 120 in attendance are asked to rate the chef and their food on a variety of points, including taste, quality and presentation.

The location-an atypical dining venue like an old warehouse-is kept under wraps until the day before the supper. The kitchen is set up out in the open so diners can interact with the chef, and before each meal, the featured chef shares why they are passionate about the food they are serving.

"We want to be the place where all things new in food are explored," Dinner Lab co-founder Zach Kupperman says. "There's an experiential component, and it's very interactive. Dinner Lab is the platform for up-and-coming chefs to showcase their work and get exposure."

As a member you can come to as many or few diners as you want. Members will receive an email with details on an upcoming dinner, including the chef, their bio and what is planned for dinner. Memberships go on sale online today and are capped at an undisclosed number (Kupperman says they'll typically sell out in a few days; but in the case of LA and New York City, it was a matter of hours). Money from membership is used to rent a space, equipment and other essentials for the pop-up dinner party.

"We look at it as a platform for them to elevate their careers," he says. "It's a way to test out new ideas. Or maybe they've always dreamed of opening their own restaurant. They don't have to worry about finding the rentals; they can cook onsite."

Dinner Lab has made a splash around the country, offering membership-based, supper club dining in cities from LA to New York to New Orleans, where the organization is based. The first Columbus dinner-and also their first in Ohio-is slated for early March and will be prepared by Chicago chef Daniel Espinoza, a finalist in Dinner Lab's first culinary competition in which the winning chef will walk away with funding to open a restaurant.

Kupperman adds Columbus diners can expect 70 percent of dinners to feature local chefs. The other 30 will be hosted by promising cooks from Dinner Labs around the country.

As for why they picked Columbus, "there's really nothing scientific about it," Kupperman says, adding a member of their team is from Columbus, and spoke highly of the city's food scene. He compared the Columbus market to cities like Nashville and Austin.

To sign up for Dinner Lab, visit their website here.

Photos courtesy Ryan Green, Reaux Photo, Aaron Lyles, Jeff Thibodeau, Dinner Lab