How Do You Open a Restaurant in Manhattan? Practice, Practice, Practice.

Opening a restaurant anywhere takes a lot of, well, everything, really. Talent. Vision. Faith. Blood, sweat, and tears. And, oh yes, money. Opening a restaurant in the dining mecca that is Manhattan takes a lot more of all these things. Thankfully, for us diners, there are lots of folks who want to do it, despite the obvious hurdles.

Driven by a passion for creating amazing food and experiences, Felipe Donnelly and Tamy Rofe are among New York City’s aspiring restaurateurs. Advertising pros by day, they are taking a decidedly different, new-school approach to making their dream a reality, via Worth Kitchen, where they host intimate dinners for the growing number of fans they’ve carefully cultivated through social media channels, including Twitter and Facebook. Not yet an actual restaurant, Worth Kitchen’s smaller dinner parties are free of charge but by invitation only. However, this husband-and-wife team have already pulled off their first open-to-the-public pop-up dinner, and another is on the calendar for March 17th.

I dined with them last night, and I look forward to the day that Worth Kitchen is on OpenTable. Check out our slideshow and interview with the founders, after the jump.

How did the idea for Worth Kitchen come about?

Felipe: It was a merger of two passions. We wanted to do dinners in our house, and I love cooking and Tamy loves to write. She wanted to find a way to express it much better. And then, last June, we were watching Julie and Julia, and Tamy paused it in the middle and said, “We can do so much better than a recipe a day! Why don’t we do a dinner at our house? You create the menu and cook, and I’ll write about it — all the stories, what happened during dinner, the food and so on.”

Tamy: That Thursday was the first dinner!

How many have you hosted since?

Felipe: 35 or 36. It’s always been an experiment. We think, “Let’s have fun with this. Let’s see how it goes.” A restaurant would be awesome, but let’s see if I have what it takes. So, every dinner really is a dry run. If a recipe really works, we write it down. And, then the pop-up dinner we did was really the best-of, in terms of menu. We served what we knew would work.

How many people showed up at the pop-up — and what was that like, cooking for a crowd?

Felipe: We had 60 people. It was very difficult. Very fun. Very stressful. The venue has an open kitchen, so it feels like you’re in our apartment. You walk right by the kitchen. Everyone says hi, and I’m crazy! Sweating! But it was fun! Tamy was doing a great job with the front of the house.

Tamy: The cool thing is that the essence of our smaller dinners was still there. We really wanted to maintain that same feeling of strangers connecting and feeling at home. And it worked. People were going to other peoples’ tables and it was like everybody knew each other — but nobody knew each other.

Felipe: The people that come to our dinners understand that they’re in for a fun time and a great meal, but, at the same time, they understand that it’s not perfect. It’s not a restaurant [Ed. note: Yet]. You’re not going to get the perfect service. But, we’re going to give you the best meal possible. And, the environment is so much fun. We want everyone to leave with a smile from ear to ear on their faces.

I met you through social media. Is that where a lot of your diners come from?

Felipe: Obviously, being in advertising, we adore technology, and this level of success wouldn’t have happened without Twitter and blogging.

How is it to be part of this grassroots movement in food?

Tamy: Now, in any industry, you can build your own prototype and develop it and produce it, and it’s the same with food. You can take it step by step and see the result and have fun while doing it. It’s almost like it’s the more secure road. You hear the stat that 8 out of 10 restaurants fail, and if we’re going to do it, we want to do it right. For now, though, it’s okay to be a work in progress in public. We operate in beta, which is great because that is part of the authenticity of it and we we write about it, when we screw up and make mistakes. And, people follow the journey of an entrepreneur as well as a foodie. We let people in. It’s a public process.

What’s next for Worth Kitchen?

Felipe: The overall plan for the first half of the year is to do more dinners and pop-ups and perfect that — and then look ahead. For us to even think we were going to become a presence in New York’s food scene seemed crazy, but now it seems possible.

You can read all about Worth Kitchen via Tamy’s blog. And, if you want to land a table at Worth Kitchen or purchase a ticket to their next pop-up dinner, follow them on Twitter and show them some ‘like’ on Facebook.

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