“I hate bars. I hate ‘em,” MealTribes Founder and CEO, Jared Gold, told me when we sat down together in Shaw recently. “Bars have been the default response when your friends ask you ‘what are you doing this weekend?’ for so long.”
“When I used to go to bars,” Gold explained, “I’d try to have meaningful conversations with people. Meanwhile, there was really shitty, loud music playing in the background. People were not trying to engage.” As an alternative, he decided to create a space and a community where real conversations could be had and genuine friendships could be formed. That space, would be formed around a shared potluck meal between strangers, and he decided to call it MealTribes.
Since launching in January 2017, Gold and his co-founders, Marin Galvin and Dylan Nunn have facilitated 30–35 potluck dinners and claim just under 700 members or “tribers.” It appears that Gold and company have struck a chord — Washingtonians are hungry for home-cooked meals and meaningful interactions with others.
“Our mission is to empower people to belong in their own communities,” said Gold. “I like potlucks, and I thought it would be a good way to help people get to know each other. If we get people into the same room, who knows, maybe good things will happen.”
A MealTribes potluck starts when Gold and his team send out a date and location for a communal meal via email. Tribers then RSVP, and are matched into groups of 5–6 people. From there, MealTribes digitally introduces the group and opens up a thread where everyone can commit to bringing a main dish, side, or dessert for the meal.
On the night of the meal, the host will invite their fellow potluckers into their home and everything flows organically from there. Often the host picks a table topic, or poses a question to their guests to break the ice and get the conversation flowing.
Washington, DC was a natural place for Gold to launch a potluck dinner community, since he grew up in Northern Virginia. But he told me there are certain characteristics about DC that made it a prime place to launch.
“In a place like DC, it’s kind of hard to find your home. People move here with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and they want to do cool things with cool people. It’s not easy though. That makes DC a great testing ground for what we’re looking to do with MealTribes.”
What’s been the best story to come out of a MealTribes dinner so far? A murder mystery-themed dinner, put on for 25 tribers by an enthusiastic DC couple. “So we all show up to this really old school, classy-looking apartment building and the couple had reserved the dining room which had this massive dinner table. They had prepared all of these elaborate scenario cards, and we had delicious food. Plus, every single person in attendance dressed up in formal attire. I swear to God, it looked just like Clue.”
At the moment, they are running a citywide MealTribes scavenger hunt called “The Hunt.” By participating in The Hunt, ten to twelve Washingtonians have an opportunity to win a spot at a private dinner party catered by a local chef. You can learn how to join in on the fun here, or by following @mealtribes on Instagram.
The next few months will be all about growing their membership, but there’s one thing Gold and MealTribes will always be focused on — building community. “When you go to a MealTribes dinner and you bring a dish, it feels good to contribute something to the collective. If you put yourself into it, show up as yourself, and you’re nice to people, it feels good and it feels refreshing.”
Sign up for a MealTribes potluck by going to www.mealtribes.com
Washingtonian on a mission to help people get the most out of life in the nation’s capital.