WEST ORANGE, NJ — Recognizing the simplicity of communicating with other community members through social media compared to the difficulty of meeting new people in person, West Orange residents, Sarah Zorn, Amy Gallatin, and Sean McCauley have teamed up to launch a "West Orange Supper Club" as a new way for residents to meet, dine together and support local restaurants.
The Supper Club began after Zorn, Gallatin and McCauley saw a post on Facebook page where a moderator expressed frustration with the fact that many people seem to "Like" restaurant pages, but aren’t patronizing the establishments. After about an hour of Facebook chatter, the West Orange Supper Club was born.
“That post really resounded with me because that’s one of the biggest complaints in NYC," said Zorn, who recently moved to West Orange. "Everybody holds ‘funeral services’ over restaurants closing, but when asked, you find they haven’t even eaten in them.
"No one takes the onus of how much responsibility they have in wanting to keep a restaurant open and how much power they have in keeping restaurants alive. The Supper Club was a reaction to the frustration of how hands-off people were when it came to their local businesses, which is a legit complaint. I wondered how to get people to be proactive about supporting local restaurants.”
Gallatin, who is also relatively new to West Orange, said she saw the post and immediately created a Facebook page for the club. She then contacted Zorn and McCauley to be admins of the page.
“We thought that starting a Supper Club would be a great way to use social media to get people away from social media and meeting in person,” said Gallatin.
Zorn said that one of the reasons she helped launch the Supper Club was because she does not have friends or family in the area and wanted to meet new people. As a food writer and restaurant reviewer as well as the food editor for "Brooklyn Magazine," Zorn added that the club is a natural extension of her personal interests.
“That job positioned me as the de facto cheerleader of the dining scene in my borough," she said. "It was my job to track and create excitement around people dining and supporting restaurants in that borough of Brooklyn."
Zorn also said she was comforted to find that after moving to West Orange and starting to extend herself by going to various clubs in town, she found that no matter how long a person lived in town, or how extensive one’s community of friends or neighbors were, there were still people looking to make new connections.
“I found that some people didn’t quite know how to make connections, whether they’d lived in the community for a while, had kids who just moved away, were sort of unmoored or looking to step out of their comfort or social circles, or had just been living here for a few months like me,” she said. “Creating these types of clubs or communities is a great way for people at various stages in their lives to connect.
"People are always looking to do that and some just aren’t quite sure how to tell people they need a friend or want to meet someone new. So, a club like our Supper Club, is a safe way for people to make new friendships and deepen their connections within the community—and it’s a great thing.”
Zorn also said that in her career, she has written just as often about restaurants opening as closings. Common reasons for that included not having enough foot traffic and other factors the everyday patron has no control over, such as rent or the cost of doing business.
“You see that it’s a common problem—people get upset when a restaurant closes or when new restaurants don’t open but the whole thing is that restaurants can’t stay open unless people are supporting them with their money or presence,” said Zorn. “It’s a lot easier to keep restaurants open in West Orange by encouraging people to go to them than it was in Brooklyn where there were 1000s of options and a few people couldn’t make a den."
Zorn said she believes that the "everyday residents of West Orange can have a part in creating the dining scene they want to see.”
According to the three leaders, one goal of the Supper Club is to dine at as many West Orange restaurants as possible at least once.
“We are working to try to create a self-sustaining model for people to go to a restaurant once and then bring others there the next time,” said McCauley.
Club members most recently visited Grillera, once with their families and again over the next two days without the kids so they could unwind. Guests said they enjoyed their food as much as they enjoyed meeting each other.
One guest, Raed Shomali, posted a "thank you" message to the organizers via Facebook and many others followed suit—including Christine Granz, who said that "dinner was delicious and it was nice to meet some more West Orange neighbors," and Mi Hee Kim Swagler, who said that "food, drinks and fun people are some of [her] favorite things."
After dining at Grillera on Friday night and receiving cookie goodie bags from Susan Dolinko, the gang went to the Pour House for some karaoke.
In addition to Grillera, the Supper Club has also previously dined at Nicholas Anthony and Fandango. All three organizers were particularly thrilled with their dinner at Nicholas Anthony, where the owners are West Orange residents.
Noting that one of the owners was previously the chef at the Oak Barrell, Zorn said that Nicholas Anthony is "the kind of restaurant that people hopefully would want to support: one that is locally homegrown."
Gallatin explained that they selected Nicholas Anthony as the first restaurant to visit because the chef was the first person to make her feel welcome when she moved to West Orange.
"I ordered a burger from the Oak Barrel, where Nicholas worked at the time, and stopped by to pick it up to eat at home," said Gallatin. "However, once I walked inside, I immediately loved the atmosphere. I asked if I could eat my burger there instead.
"I had a great time, met the staff, and this experience caused me to come out of my comfort zone. I then started to dine out alone and later with the friends I met along the way...The West Orange dining scene helped me feel like part of the community and the Supper Club is a way of honoring the restaurants and giving back to them.”
In order to select which restaurants to visit as a group, polls have been published on the West Orange Supper Club Facebook page.
“What we are trying to do is bring is synergy," said McCauley. "Not only are we bringing the people to the restaurants, we really want to help the restaurants too."
Although they are satisfied for the turnout thus far, the three club leaders are hoping more people will begin attending the events.
“There’s no lack of enthusiasm,” said Zorn. “We have over 300 members on our Facebook page and we often have a good response rate, but many people just don’t show up. So, while this club formed from frustration that people aren’t proactive, we are still seeing this happen...Our members need to be proactive and committed to supporting West Orange restaurants.”
Gallatin added that because of the group's small size, this is a unique opportunity for residents to "connect with equally proactive-minded people.” However, she also said the end goal is for people to "show up in numbers and make a real difference when it comes to the sustainability of these restaurants.”
“We have two primary missions and I feel we are filling them well,” said Gallatin. “Our first goal is to make true connections with our neighbors. Our second goal is to support West Orange restaurants in a very real way.”
Zorn said that although it's peoples' right to "spend their dollars where they want,” the club's goal is to have its members "be a little bit more mindful about spending those dollars in town.”
“I’m all about creating the town you want to see," she said. "West Orange will never get there if people are actively denigrating the town or its restaurants on social media. It’s a bad look not just to each other, but also on a larger level.”
“We want West Orange to be a destination to its fullest ability because it has a high ability to be a destination,” said McCauley.
Join the West Orange Supper Club to learn more about upcoming meetups.