By Anna Boisseau
One hundred and fifty mainly strangers gathered for Saturday night’s sold out “Family Dinner” at STK, a River North restaurant. The dinner, a biannual event in Chicago and 30 other cities worldwide, hopes to build community among African American professionals through sharing a meal together.
“We want them to feel like they’re coming home,” said organizer Marquita Cunningham of the “family” aspect of the event. She said because it can be hard to meet people outside of work, Family Dinner is a chance to make new friends in the city.
This is why Jasmine Trice, a first-time Family Dinner attendee, came to the event. A busy professional, Trice said she rarely has time to socialize. “I want to make some type of meaningful relationships outside of work,” she said
Participants were encouraged to sit with someone they did not know and not talk about work. Each table had a list of ice breaking topics to facilitate conversation and the meal was served family style.
The event is meant to meet new people, but Sinan Franklin and Lauren Keene came with friends. This was their second time at Family Dinner, and they came to celebrate a mutual friend’s 30th birthday party.
At last year’s Family Dinner, Keene and Franklin went out with people they had just met at the dinner. Keene mentioned how much she enjoyed meeting new people last year.
According to organizer Demond Edwards, one of the challenges of Family Dinner is finding a venue large enough to accommodate the increasing number of attendees. He said when he first started organizing the event three years ago, 50 people attended. Now he has to find entire restaurants to rent out to accommodate demand.
“Word of mouth helps,” Edwards said.
Edwards said an additional hurdle for future events is figuring out how to attract more male attendees, as Family Dinner currently is mainly female.
Sabrina Stroud was invited by a friend who chose not to attend herself because of this gender divide. Stroud, a single mom, said she was happy for an opportunity to socialize with new people in the city. “I’m just here to meet people…men or women doesn’t matter.”