Niche eateries seem to be everywhere these days. Diners in treehouses, cat cafes in animal shelters, food truck convergences in national parks; gourmet dining can be found anywhere you can imagine it. But it’s a little hard to imagine it in a college dorm. Jonah Reider, a student at Columbia University in Upper Manhattan, lives in Hogan Hall, the smallest and most in-demand senior residence hall at the Ivy League school. He shares a dorm and communal kitchen with three other roommates, and in that space, with dorm-caliber furniture and unframed art-major paintings on the walls, he runs a restaurant.
Four nights a week, he cooks for and hosts a single table for three or four diners. In a kitchen more designed for mac and cheese or top ramen, he cooks pan-fried rainbow trout with chanterelle rice, and other dishes with names you hear on cooking shows.
Reider freely admits that the micro-restaurant is not a sustainable project. For one thing, he’s in his last year at Columbia (you have to be a senior undergrad to live in Hogan) and knows that he won’t have the time for his unique hobby once he graduates. For another, it’s not a for-profit enterprise. His prix-fixe menu has a price-tag of $10-20 per diner, just to cover his grocery bill. Nibbles and wine are encouraged, but extra.
For him, the real profit is in the way it broadens his own experiences. Pith has pushed him to be more adventurous in his cooking, and has introduced him to hundreds of people he would never have met, otherwise. Originally just open to students, he opened reservations to the public via his website foodinmymouth. After being featured on The Colbert Report, his waitlist promptly filled to bursting. He intends to stay open through the spring, but doesn’t know if he’ll be able to get to every party that reserved a seat the table.