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The lost art of dinner

By Simone McDowell | Photography by LunahZon Photography

Posted: Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012

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Brothers Joe Haubenhofer and Conor Merrigan did not grow up together, but these two Charlotteans are now closer than ever. They work side-by-side at The Plaid Penguin, a fresh-thinking branding and design studio, and orchestrating events for Relish Carolina, a roaming dinner and activity club.

"We are brothers, but we weren’t raised together,“ says Haubenhofer. “We have so much in common and I think that’s why we connected later in life.” But one common denominator in both households was the importance of dinnertime. As Haubenhofer says, “It was a big deal for both of us, and Relish Carolina is about creating the lost practice of dinnertime.”

Haubenhofer and Merrigan set out to create something new, and both were intrigued by the idea of underground supper clubs, with a twist. They also wanted a creative space apart from their professional (design) clients. “This is our thing. Sometimes we are limited by the client or budget but this (project) gives us our freedom,” says Merrigan.

Every Relish Carolina event is centered on an interesting space, an uncommon activity and a custom dinner – with all contributing to the theme of the evening. The goal of Relish Carolina, ultimately, is to connect people from all walks of life. “The word relish has two meanings,” says Merrigan. “The most obvious is connected to food, and the other is to relish in the moment.” The members of the Relish Carolina team work hard to make sure every guest can relish in the details of the event, from personal greetings upon arrival to original cocktails featuring local and on-theme ingredients.

The first Relish Carolina evening was held this summer at Historic Rosedale Plantation where guests enjoyed mint juleps and old fashioneds while playing bocce and croquet on the lawn. Guests could also tour the plantation before digging into the four-course meal inspired by early 1800s fare. The spread included greens and wild wheat berries, Blue Ridge Mountain trout and a version of meat and potatoes, the favorite meal of Dr. Caldwell, the last occupant of Rosedale Plantation.

In the fall, Relish Carolina presented the meal in an untraditional venue, a nondescript warehouse on Wilkerson Boulevard, divided to serve as mini living rooms. Guests savored paella, tapas and sangrias alongside the warmth of fire pits while watching the film “Almost Famous.”

As intended by the founding brothers, attendees span the spectrum, from a NoDa-based artist to a local bread maker to a clothing designer. Strangers become unlikely friends for a night (or maybe longer) over delicious food and a sense of community. A great network of friends and clients have helped spread the word about Relish, and a strong social media presence keeps those interested in the loop. This is one dinner club that isn’t exclusive – it’s strictly first to sign up, first served.

Relish Carolina prides itself on choosing a nonprofit organization as the beneficiary of each seasonal event. Many of the charities selected are not well known, and Relish Carolina hopes to spread the love not only with monetary donations but with awareness for lesser known nonprofits. “As a company [The Plaid Penguin], we volunteer every month at a different charity… from a horse farm to a soup kitchen,” says Haubenhofer. “So it was a natural progression to tie in a charity to Relish Carolina.”

“The Relish Boys,” as they affectionately call themselves, wanted to be sure guests never feel they’re getting an average dinner party. They think about every little detail and take it to the next level, from the greeting with a beverage to conversation at the table with icebreaker questions to the parting gift.

“It might sound crazy, I don’t know… but we wanted to do something different to bring people together,” says Haubenhofer. “There’s something to be said about someone that we’ve never met before coming to hang out with us and have fun.”

They are looking to host a small cocktail clinic this winter and bring in the spring with a bang with what they feel will be their best event yet. “We are partnering with local artists and pairing art with the food and cocktails,” says Haubenhofer. The event will feature more chefs and mixologists than previous events, and it will be the first time they will bring together cuisine, cocktails and art for a unique, elevated experience.

For more information on Relish Carolina and upcoming events, visit www.relishcarolina.org.

Dine Out, Do Good

These Charlotte spots are serving up a side of generosity this holiday season.

Charlotte Food Trucks

On Dec. 7, Charlotte area food trucks will collect canned goods at Food Truck Fridays in SouthEnd. Participating food trucks include Southern Cake Queen, Auto Burger, Herban Legend, Turkey And…, Sticks and Cones and The Tin Kitchen. For your donation, you will receive a coupon to be used for a future food truck visit. All canned food donations will be taken to Second Harvest Food Bank. Camden Street at Park Avenue, Charlotte.

The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar

The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar will collect new, unwrapped toys from their customers in an attempt to “Stuff The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar Bus.” Once the bus is filled to capacity it will be driven to the local Toys for Tots office to make a huge donation. Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar, The Village at SouthPark. www.thecowfish.com.

King’s Kitchen

King's Kitchen donates 100 percent of profits from sales to feed the poor and works with area ministries to provide employment opportunities. King’s Kitchen, 129 W. Trade St. www.kingskitchen.org.

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