It’s time for a new chapter in connecting communities

A farewell for now but not a goodbye

It’s bittersweet to announce DinnerPartyYVR, Vancouver’s popular social dining and charity event, won’t return in 2017. After four incredible years of connecting people around the dinner table and raising over $53,000 for local non-profit organizations, it’s time to step into something new, that wouldn’t have sparked, if it wasn’t for DinnerPartyYVR.

Once upon a time…

In 2009, I started Social Bites, a small food event, based on a concept from Germany called “The Running Dinner” where over the course of the evening people would cook in their own home and dine at two others, usually with random strangers. The concept was awesome, however to keep the quality of the meals up, I incorporated a competitive element, having diners rate hobby chefs on food, creativity and ambience. (Which also gave me the chance to flex my foodie and competitive muscles!) After dinner, we would gather for dessert and announce the winner. The events were intimate, and neighbourhood specific. Over the years Social Bites dined in Gastown, Kits, Downtown, Commercial Drive, and more. It was a fun side project that paved the path for exploring having my own business.

In 2012, the Vancouver Foundation released a report in which 1/3 of Metro Vancouverites said it was difficult to make new friends here. More needed to be done and I could see that Social Bites had the potential to hold this space for making meaningful connections, around the dinner table!

Dreamers and doers…

One summer evening, sitting at Jericho Sailing Club, over burgers and ciders with my friend, and community builder, Crystal Henrickson, a new idea to expand Social Bites to create social impact was born. Building on the premise of random strangers meeting over home cooked meals, we invited as many Vancouver hobby chefs as possible to participate. The catch? It would be simultaneous, and 100% of the tickets sales would go to charities chosen by our hobby chefs. We called it DinnerPartyYVR, and launched that fall raising close to $5,000 for multiple local charities.

And then, we held on tight as we watched DinnerPartyYVR take off! Over the next few years, DinnerPartyYVR attracted thousands of people online and offline, national media attention and advocacy for hundreds of charities. But, it wasn’t the money raised, the people that came to dine, gracing the front page of the Vancouver Sun or watching us on CBC — though, we’re pretty proud of all of this too —that made us awestruck, it was all stories of human connections, and personal journeys, that gave us all of the warm and fuzzies!

DinnerPartyYVR story time…

Heather Johnson and Team Awesome

Since year one, Heather, Mike and Sarah surprised and delighted guests with creative themes and spectacularly detailed executions. From a cookbook found at a flea market that sparked a retro 70s meal, to international 80s dishes from Expo 86 to award winning poutine dumplings, Team Awesome continued to one up their their dining game. Along the way, Heather traded in her desk job to pursue her baking passion. She now manages the deliciousness of Cartems Donuts. After taking home “Gold” at our Leftover Contest for those spectacular dumplings served 3 ways, Heather announced the launch of a new dumpling delivery service called “Hey Dumplings.” And we couldn’t be more thrilled for her!

Kelly MacGregor, Canadian Heritage Bakery + Operation Smile

Connection to causes, drove many of our hobby chefs to take challenge of home cooking for strangers. When Kelly MacGregor’s son was born with cleft lip, she felt fortunate to have the support of BC Children’s Hospital. Knowing that not all children worldwide have the same access Kelly, owner of Canadian Heritage Bakery, chose Operation Smile, a charity providing free surgeries for children to repair facial deformities, as her cause. Through her epic DinnerPartyYVR meals and her after party treats (I’m still drooling over those mason jar cakes), she has helped more than 6 kids in underdeveloped countries receive their surgery. Kelly shared her experience on my Foodline Radio show.

And then there is our own story: Crystal & Annika 2.0

Crystal and I have poured our hearts and souls, sweat and tears into this event (Moving kegs, walls and hundreds of people moving around the city at the same time will do that to you). Through it all, we discovered something too. We really like working together. Like really, really like working together. We have soldiered through the rough times, held each other up through the stressful moments and realized that we make a really good team.

Last year, in the midst of planning DinnerPartyYVR Volume 4, we co-founded Talent Collective, a career consultancy supporting professionals along their career journeys. We even hosted our first ever business conference this year! We may not have expected a company like Talent Collective to take off in the trajectory that it has but then, we didn’t expect that DinnerPartyYVR would have had such an impact when we first cooked up the idea.

Talent Collective sparked as we watched Heather and other hobby chefs grow in their careers, and now, Crystal and I have big plans for 2017, where we are working towards supporting even more people along their career journeys.

We want to invite you to keep connecting, and to peek in at what we’re up. Like, we just launched a new blog series called “I ❤ my job”, and would love to hear from those of you who love what you do, and help us keep inspiring others! And if you need any help in your career, well, we’re here for that too.

Time to say goodbye… for now!

We are proud and awed by what DinnerPartyYVR became over the years. From emerging charity advocates to exchanging cooking tips, DinnerPartyYVR has delivered more than just home cooked meals. It has given Vancouverites a platform to generate relationships that have impacted work, play and community. And we hope that others will be inspired to create their own food and charity centred events to continue the great work we collectively started.

We want to send a big thank you to everyone who supported DinnerPartyYVR, from hobby chefs to diners, from volunteers to our partners. A special thank you to Gabe Gosselin and Steve Mynett who built our website and improved our back-end database year over year! And to all of our incredible community partners, most especially our longtime supporters: Cressey Development, Whole Foods Market, BlueShore Financial, Serendipity Winery, Howe Sound Brewing, and Chimp, who believed in us and our personalized approach to partnerships. None of this would have been possible without you!

It’s been an incredible ride and I couldn’t be more proud to be part of such an outstanding community. DinnerPartyYVR has given me so many wonderful memories and also allowed me to grow as an individual. Now, I’m looking forward to a new and exciting path in 2o17.

If you have been part of DinnerPartyYVR, please share your stories and memories in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!