The Open Table Project, a unique grassroots program in eastern Kentucky, supports local farmers and businesses through “pop-up” food events
What began as friends who sold items at the Whitley County Farmers’ Market, and hosting local parties over the years, has turned into a unique business model in eastern Kentucky.
Monthly pop-up events bring together 18-28 people of all ages and backgrounds in a surprise location for delicious local food, fellowship and games.
Based out of Corbin, the Open Table Project, which launched in May, is a collaboration between Karen White of Creekside Farm and mother and daughter Melissa and Jordan Jung of idlewhims.com. Currently the group is serving Knox, Whitley, and Laurel counties in southeastern Kentucky.
“We open an event every month and sell a set number of tickets according to how many people we can seat at a specific venue,” says White. “People do not know the event location until the morning of the event, when we sent an email.” They do tell guests how to dress, but do not tell them details about the event or the theme, so it very much is a surprise pop-up event.
“Our business model is to have events at local businesses who would host us and to buy from local farmers and businesses to support our meals,” explains White. “When we started meeting months prior to this to develop a plan and business model, I was adamant about using local farmers. Being part of the farmer’s market for so long, I wanted to support our farmers. It became who I was as cook. It became more of a passion of mine, even to support local economy.”
Each $45 per person ticketed event is themed. The September “Savor the Flavors” event was held at Carousel Florist & Gifts in London, which featured food sourced from nine Kentucky Proud members.
Jung explains that guests are greeted with appetizers and seated for dining with people they do not know. “This grouping then becomes a team for the interactive activities that are interspersed throughout the dinner,” says Jung.
Their first event was held in May at Dewdrop Pottery in Corbin. “It was an art event and we wanted to highlight artists in the area so we help it at a pottery shop,” says White. “We contacted a local artist to do art while people were eating. We made artsy plates with the food. During appetizers, guests could watch the owner of Dewdrop Pottery, Fawn Grear, throw her pottery on the wheel. We had another artist painting (who is currently painting a mural in downtown Corbin in the underpass) was there doing a water color while guests ate diner and playing games. She completed a painting while the guests were eating.”
White says, “The venue makes a world of difference and sets the stage for the scene.” Each event is different and themed with Open Table Project partnering with a local business to showcase what they bring to the community so guests learn about and support these local companies in the future.
June’s pop-up event was an Appalachian Brunch, held at someone’s house out in the woods on private property. White says, “it featured a company in Corbin that makes concrete logs, which look exactly like real log cabin logs.” The house where the even was held had been built using these logs.
“It could have been one of my favorites. It poured rain all day, but it quite until everyone sat down on the porch, but then it just started pouring the rain. It was absolutely breathtaking, just beautiful with the rain hitting the roof with everyone sitting there.” Guests played cornhole, appetizers were served on the front porch, then people walked to the back porch where food was served on one big, long table.
There was the July Cooking Experience at the Knox County Extension Pavilion, where White says, “This was a hands-on event. I wanted to teach people some knife skills, how to make a simple vinaigrette, and then we had a homemade ice cream competition (among guests) at the end, which was served for dessert.”
The pop-up events can literally be held anywhere. To show you how varied the venues and themes are, the August event was an Italian-themed event held at a lawyer’s office in their library which was very Old World. “It was great, it was so different,” says White. “It was probably the most interactive and most fun event we’ve had, because the people stepped up and got into it. It was competitive. There was a karaoke competition at end where they sang an Italian song.”
Melissa Jung says, “It’s very surprising how open folks are…they come away as friends.” White adds, “For all three of us, we are encouraged that we have regulars now. There’s one couple, within 15 minutes of the time we post an event, they sign up. We have about five or six other couples who continuously come back.”
Still a surprise at the time of this interview, the October pop-up event would involve cheesemaking at Wildcat Mountain Cheese in East Bernstadt in Laurel County. The cheese shop is on the dairy farm, which is a retail space. Our guests will get to see this operation and know more about cheesemaking, and hopefully they Wildcat Mountain Cheese will gain customers through this event. We are advocates for local businesses.”
Which is her favorite? “I love them all, they are all so different,” says White.
Pop-up event tickets are $45 per person currently. Make sure you check their Facebook page for the November event, with ticket sales that close November 8. To learn out about upcoming pop-up events and reserve a seat, go to Facebook: Open Table Project or to their website at OpenTableProject.net.