John Jones and an underground dining collective

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by Eric Ginsburg

I’ve always said that to find out about cool things in Greensboro, people need to dig beneath the surface. In some cities those things readily present themselves, but especially for transplants, Greensboro requires persistence and probably a guide.

It’s something I figured out quickly after moving to what we’d like to call the City of Civil Rights in 2006, and though my shovel has been out ever since, somehow this one slipped by me.

To my credit, the Next Supper is an underground dining experience, though co-founder John Jones said they don’t promote it on social media more out of laziness than any desire to keep it quiet. He and Kerrie Thomas have organized the pop-up dinners, usually in someone’s home, monthly for six years now.

A friend tipped me off to this hidden culinary current in the city about a month ago. With little idea what to expect as first-timers, we still eagerly dove in with beverages in hand and prepared to drop $40 each so we could be in the know.

It all went down in plain site. Dozens of people slipped into the historic home on Summit Avenue, and I didn’t realize until we were parking that the event would take place in the home of several new friends.

Jones, who was one of the original partners at Southern Lights and was later one of the first hires at Quaintance Weaver as a front-house manager, didn’t intend for the Next Supper to become a long-term endeavor. But it accomplishes what he set out to do: experiment more freely with food.

The location, timeline and menu for the Next Supper are ever-changing. An email alert to a list of devotees announces the upcoming event, and people clamor to respond before seats fill up.

DSC01261Reflecting a month later, my memory of the food pulled in slices of the evening. There was a buttermilk soup of some sort to start, a concoction with a Japanese influence and an egg later on, a plate of various delicious tomatoes and an unusual cantaloupe tequila poured in a tall shot glass. Oh, and some peaches with cheese — goat, I believe — drizzled with honey and something green, maybe basil.

This is to be expected, our fast friends and tablemates who were seasoned Next Supper guests told us. You come for the food and you return for the people. It isn’t that the food is unremarkable — on the contrary everything was inventive and delicious. I don’t remember the specifics of the conversations either, but such easy company among strangers is certainly rare, the mood set by the communal experience quite unmatched.

DSC01258The plan, of course, was to describe the food in more detail, but the connection formed with and over the food turned out to be more significant. That, and I can’t for the life of me find where I took notes as Jones introduced each of the seven courses (including the tequila shot).

Jones, a slim man who can often be found wearing a black shirt that matches his glasses and hair, is brimming with ideas. The Next Supper could have more of a salon element, or he could be involved in themed events, or he could move into a physical space and open a restaurant downtown. It could be equal parts bar and restaurant, seating maybe 50, with small plates after lunch that might come as a package deal with well-paired drinks.

He’s even thought about leaving for a sweet gig a friend offered him out of town. But for now, Jones is most focused on continuing what he’s doing, which includes catering and being a personal chef in addition to the Next Supper, as well as a new concept.

Friend Elizabeth Gibbs of Small Potatoes Catering is buying a truck, and Jones intends to be part of a multi-concept venture. The mobile kitchen would likely include a soup component, providing meals to go, but the key would be variety, Jones said.

Regardless of exactly how his ideas shake out, Jones projects the determinism, holds the résumé and has exhibited the talent that will bring something interesting to fruition.DSC01262

Most of the Next Supper attendees that Sunday ate inside, but two tables of us fit onto the front porch, shaded from the street by a few trees on an idyllically cool August eve. In our twenties, my friend and I were easily the youngest people in attendance save some of the folks helping Jones and Thomas, but the generation gap went unnoticed.

As people started leaving, a fellow diner stopped me and — noting my camera and notebook — asked if I was a reporter.

“Oh please don’t write about this,” she said. “It will just be that much harder to get in.”

 Learn more about the Next Supper at thenextsupper.com or email John Jones at [email protected]