Dallas isn’t new to the pop-up scene. It's become as common in the city's culinary landscape in recent years as barbecue or burgers. With pop-ups' low investment cost and short time commitment, it's become a launching platform for some of Dallas’ up-and-coming chefs.
For most chefs, notoriety, establishing their presence in the dining world and a little bit of profit tend to be the big three goals for these in-and-out dining experiences. That's why Dan Ho and Charles Nam are so peculiar with their series of fine-dining pop-up dinners, called Everybody Eats.
They don't call themselves chefs. They don’t want to carve out a spot for themselves in the culinary hall of fame, or live in the kitchen as a full-time job. And they donate all of their profit to charity. Also, they’re only 24.
Ho, who does social media for restaurants, and Nam, who is job-hunting after completing a degree in biochemistry, are friends first and foremost, they say. The two both went to school together and quickly bonded over their love of “three particular things: sneakers, hip-hop and food,” as Ho puts it. While sneaker collecting is cool and hip-hop is timeless, food was where their passion struck a vein of productivity. After nights of studying for tests and chatting over sushi, the two locked into the idea of starting their own pop-up, one where they could highlight food from their respective cultures — Ho with Vietnamese cuisine and Nam with Korean — with a unique modern flair.
The duo isn't interested in money, however. They want to raise money — their initial few dinners, the next of which is on June 4, will cost diners around $50-$75 — but personal profit has never been a deciding factor in their plans.
“We only cover food cost," Nam says. “The rest goes to charity.”
This concept is their way of relieving stress and having fun together, not their way of making a living. They work with organizations such as No Kid Hungry and the North Texas Food Bank to ensure that any money that they raise gets sent back into the community to ensure others less fortunate get a meal as well. This is where the name comes from: Everybody Eats.
As it turns out, working with your best friend seems to generate some creative ideas. Where many may stress about the fine details of menu planning, both Ho and Nam seem to relish in the weirdness of it all.
“Our brainstorming time is the most fun I have,” Nam says.
“We curate our menus by sitting down and talking about anything that inspires us — commercials, memes, anything outlandish," Ho says. This creative spirit certainly works. At their latest dinner, the menu included items such as somen noodles in a homemade white kimchi broth, blistered shishito peppers with egg yolk and smoked salt, and a dish tongue-in-cheek called "hentai," made with a whole butter-seared octopus tentacle served with microgreens.
Making great food is one thing, but marketing it is another. The two tossed around the idea of how to get their events out to the public but found inspiration in one of their other passions: sneakers. Many high-end sneaker brands employ a marketing tactic that involves producing a very small, very limited supply of their product, and drumming up attention by advertising its exclusivity. This strategy is called by many names, but Ho and Nam keep it simple by just referring to it as "hype."
“Hype is part of our society, and we play to our strengths," Ho says. "Networking is first, and we build from there.”
Ho and Nam have only had a few events thus far, mostly test runs with family and friends, but they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
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“We have more dinners; we have a backlog of three years of energy,” Nam says. “It's a snowball effect.”
Can two young 24-year-olds really sustain such a concept and fend off the inevitable critics? Apparently so. Their latest dinner had the backing and good graces of Jettison's bar manager George Kaiho, where their meal was served. By being able to utilize friendships and relationships from others in the food and drink industry, Ho and Nam are ready to learn along the way.
“Displaying our food in the best possible form is all we have to think about. There will always be people who don’t like you, who don’t sit well with your brand. They’ll bring up our age, they’ll hate me for changing Vietnamese food. In terms of dealing with those people, I just don’t mind. We are just interested in making sure everybody gets fed,” Ho explains.
For most, running any kind of food establishment is stressful. For Ho and Nam, it's meditative. For them that stress is what drives them to do better and continue their passion. While they may never become a true brick-and-mortar establishment, they can use that unchained freedom to create something that not many else have: fun. “Even if we have lots of volume, the big thing for me is exclusivity. Not elitism,” Ho says. “I want to create special events that end up on people’s calendars, something they can look forward to. It's fun, it's love, it's charity.”