One recent Saturday evening, a friend and I pulled up to a commercial warehouse on Chattahoochee Avenue. A sign above the entrance read, “Beauty Wholesale.” A simple gold logo on the glass door let us know we’d arrived at the right place. But when we entered, we stepped into a homey setting with hardwood floors, framed posters, cozy seating, and shelves full of cookbooks. Only the acoustic-tile ceiling hinted at the space’s former industrial life. The welcoming vibe set the tone for the evening ahead, as we mingled with other guests here for Zach Meloy’s Mug of the Month supper club, which he runs out of his Dirt Church ceramics studio.
Atlanta supper clubs aren’t exactly new. Kamayan ATL, a Buford Highway eatery recommended by Michelin, began as a series of pop-up feasts. Shai Lavi hosts small-scale, modern-Mediterranean dinners at the Third Space, where Asha Gomez began hosting private events ten years ago. But recently, this big trend has gotten, well, smaller. Chefs are hosting more informal, intimate suppers in offbeat locations, even private homes. Here are four new ones to watch.
Mug of the Month Club
After Meloy closed Better Half, his convivial Westside restaurant, in 2018, he returned to his first love: ceramics, which he had studied in college. He began selling dishes to restaurants around the country. This summer, he opened his new Upper Westside studio, a showroom and production facility to serve his growing wholesale clientele. Combining his two passions, he also carved out more intimate spaces, where he hosts dinners for up to 16 people at a time. Meloy serves five courses, along with wine pairings, on his own dishes (sometimes including handmade drinking vessels and utensils).
“What I’m doing is creating a seasonal line of ceramics. So, each season, there are six or seven new ceramic shapes that I’ll be producing,” says Meloy. The supper club menu “pairs” with the tableware. For example, the fall menu included a table-side pour of creamy celery veloute with crunchy pieces of the vegetable. “It was served in a bowl that was real rough and organic-looking, and kind of inspired by the shape and characteristics of a celery root,” says Meloy. Guests get to choose their favorite mugs to take home.
For Meloy, who ran PushStart Kitchen supper clubs before opening Better Half, hosting these intimate meals felt like a necessary move. Chefs can get caught up in chasing awards, or trying to find the next “big thing,” he says. “It’s almost my goal to be as small as possible because I’m really seeing the value is not in how many people I can feed, but how I’m trying to provide the highest-quality experience.”
“I’ve kind of been joking that I trick people into coming when, in the end, it’s not really about the food or the ceramics,” he says. “Those are just the vehicles for creating that space to get people to interact honestly and face-to-face, versus through our screens.”
Tickets are $185 per person and include one mug and wine pairings.
Trevor Shankman’s supper club, Maria, lures diners to a Kennesaw subdivision, where they feast on eight-course menus. Only 8 to 12 guests can attend at a time, and Shankman typically hosts two dinners per weekend. His familiarity with the format began in high school, when he helped his father, chef Kyle Shankman, run Speak Easy Supper Club, which still operates out of Powder Springs.
The 21-year-old was inspired to start his own series after losing his maternal grandmother, Maria Delgado, last June. “It’s sort of to commemorate her. All of the dishes on the menu are titled in ways that are very sentimental to me and embody childhood memories,” says Trevor.
Delgado, he says, spent her early days in 1960s Cuba, then moved to Miami, where she grew up and met her husband (also a Cuban immigrant) before moving around the United States and landing in Georgia. Delgado taught Spanish to elementary school students in Powder Springs, including Trevor and his brother.
“She was a one-of-a-kind personality. She would wake up out of her sleep in the middle of the night because she had some idea of a song that she could sing in class for her students,” says Trevor. “That’s very much where I get a lot of my creativity from.”
He translates these memories into dishes like a cinnamon-spiced dessert called Saturday Morning Cartoons, which alludes to sleepovers at Delgado’s house, when she would make her famous cinnamon toast with French baguettes. Another favorite is a riff on bacalao, a salted-cod dish eaten throughout the Caribbean. His version is roasted black cod topped with trout foam, served alongside potato gnocchi dusted in nutritional yeast and dried kelp.
Tickets are $120 per person; BYOB.
Johnni Jesus began his supper club, Madre, during early 2022. “I really wanted to bring people into a safe space, into a home, and feed them, and just talk about stories and cultures through food,” says Jesus. By day, he’s the general manager of East Pole Coffee Co.
Through his side hustle, he pursues his passion for Guatemalan dishes that hearken back to his youth in Cairo, Georgia, where his parents had a food truck. “A lot of what I serve are my mother’s recipes,” he says. “Things I grew up eating, things I haven’t found in Atlanta that are very nurturing and tell stories of traditions and culture.”
Examples include pork adobo tacos with pineapple, the meat flavored with a tangy, spiced marinade. “It’s, like, sweet and salty and savory. It’s an umami bomb that has everything going on,” he says. He often serves elote (charred corn with cotija cheese, crema, mayonnaise, and spices), tostadas, and tres leches cake.
Jesus finds these gatherings, often hosted at friends’ homes, to be rewarding. “It’s almost kind of like being at a kid’s birthday picnic,” he says. “Maybe all the kids don’t know each other, but around food and desserts, people talk and get to hang out and get to know each other, and leave becoming new friends.”
At press time, Jesus’s supper clubs were on hiatus while he hosted a weekly taco pop-up at the former Georgia Beer Garden. Look for details of this year’s dinners soon.
Hi-Five Supper Club
Some supper clubs are a whole vibe. That’s the case with Hi-Five, an adventurous collaboration between Liz Peña and her college friend, Naki (who goes by her first name only). The duo, who share an interest in cannabis, work in marketing by day.
They organize a few gatherings per year, for about 12 guests at a time, usually at one of their houses or the home of a friend. “Every dinner that we put together, there’s some kind of underlying theme,” says Naki, who prepares the food. They once organized a “harvest moon” dinner to highlight local farms, while another meal focused on Italian dishes. Because the food is infused with CBD, which can make guests feel lightly buzzed, Peña serves nonalcoholic and CBD-infused beverages, like virgin mojitos or a Sparkling Ginger Pomegranate Fizz with egg white.
Peña also creates dreamy tablescapes, such as a candlelit “dark forest” table with moon phase napkins and a moss runner. “I think that when people leave, they’re all on this journey together,” she says. “It’s really magical to see because they walk away feeling happier and lighter.”
Tickets typically cost between $125 and $150.
This article appears in our January 2024 issue.