The Hipster Food Foragers are trying to dodge the Health Department…
9:34 AM EDT on April 2, 2015
Last summer we told you about a couple of Hipster Food Foragers who opened some weird restaurant called Nani. The Foragers apparently walk around Martin Nature Park looking for wild food and ingredients to incorporate into the restaurant's cuisine. Here's what we had to say about the restaurant at the time...
I guess you can add Nani to the list of restaurants Patrick will never eat at in his life. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t want my food to be handpicked by a bunch of hipsters wandering through the Oklahoma countryside singing Fleet Foxes songs and grabbing whichever red berries or weed they think tastes good and then having it thrown in a salad. Not only do you have to worry about it being safe to eat, but what if it’s covered in deer piss or something? I want whatever’s on my plate to be grown on a farm in Mexico, picked by poor people and then delivered to a restaurant via a refrigerated Sysco truck. Go America!
Well, I guess it's time for an Ogle retraction. We got this wrong. Nani isn't a restaurant... it's a "Dinner Club." At least that's what the Hipster Food Foragers are saying as they try to avoid inspections by the state Health Department.
In a bustling kitchen at the edge of the Plaza District in Oklahoma City, four men in aprons prepare an 18-course meal. They delicately slice quail eggs and fresh-baked pan bread, and lay eggplant and raw fish together in a small bowl, placing small bits of juniper on top with delicate precision. Two rooms away, on a handmade wooden and metal table, one of them lays smooth wooden chop sticks on small pieces of reclaimed granite.While the group operates in a seemingly professional environment and their patrons sit among visually comforting surroundings, sitting underneath rustic branches that act as curtain rods and framed shots of stunning aerial photographs, this is not a restaurant in the traditional sense. It is a dinner club called Nani, and it operates out of the bottom floor of the very home of some of its staff.
Holy Father John Misty, this already sounds like the most annoying restaurant... errrr... dinner club ever. Rustic branches? Reclaimed granite?? Handmade wooden tables??? Is the reporter describing a place to eat or your aunt's Pinterest page.
Colin Stringer and Andon Whitehorn, Nani’s owners and two of its three chefs, argue they are not a restaurant at all, rather a private dinner club, and have been operating as such since last summer.
“It’s not like going out to dinner,” Stringer said. “It’s an event.”
“It’s a very curated experience, and it’s a very personal endeavor,” he said.
Nani does not take orders, nor does it advertise or accept walk-in customers. The meals are chosen by the chefs preparing them, and guests who make reservations are expected to try new foods, some locally foraged, and learn about both what foods they are eating and the process by which they are made.
In case you care, the definition for restaurant is "a place where people pay to sit and eat meals that are cooked and served on the premises." Call me normal and logical, but Nani sure sounds like a restaurant to me. Who cares that they don't advertise, accept walk-in customers or let patrons choose their own meal. Braum's has been surprising me with orders for years. It's still a restaurant. Also, know what other place provides a personal, curated experience, that's not like going out to dinner? Chuck E. Cheese. Guess what? It's still a restaurant.
This gets even more absurd:
The state Health Department has attempted to inspect Nani’s facilities twice. Both times they were denied by its proprietors. The agency argues Nani is a restaurant and should be licensed as such.However, Stringer and Whitehorn, who are licensed as food managers with the state Health Department, say they are operating as private chefs, a stipulation made in the emails they send confirming reservations, and are inviting people to their home to try something new they chose to make.Essentially, they say, we’re throwing a little party every night.“It is a gray area the same way a lot of other really popular models are gray areas right now,” Stringer said. “You have things like Uber, Airbnb. People question their legality, but what they’re doing is cutting out the middle man. They’re cutting out the traditional taxing service. It’s empowering the workers. You’re basically letting the people do business amongst themselves.”
Bullshit. There's nothing "gray"about this. Nani is a restaurant. Uber is a cool taxi service that's subject to regulation. It's like comparing apples to wild fig root.
Also, what "middle man" are you cutting out? The dude who makes sure the restaurant is following health codes? That's probably a middle man you'd like to keep around.
If they continue operating past the 15-day period allowed for an appeal after the cease and desist order was filed, Stringer and Whitehorn face a $250 per day fine.“It’s nothing but money at this point. They’ve realized that they don’t have regulations for this,” Whitehorn said.“Bottom line, I think they’re just trying to fill their fee schedule. And, that’s exactly what it is.”The two said they want to be in compliance with the law, but after repeated attempts to get clarification from the state Health Department on either how they differ from private chefs or what options exist for them to continue operating, they have been met with a wall of silence.The state Health department declined to comment on the specifics of Nani’s case, citing pending litigation.
Serious question: why would the Hipster Food Foragers even try to fight this? Publicity? Or maybe eating at a place that's not approved by the health department is the new hipster thing to do...
"Hey, eat here! We don't have to pass health inspections!"
"Uhm, okay. What do you serve?"
"Wild uninspected food that we found in nature!"
"I think I'm going to head down to the Mule instead."
Stay in touch
Sign up for our free newsletter
More from The Lost Ogle
David Holt and Todd Lamb among four finalists for OCU Law School Dean
Could Mayor McSelfie become Dean McSelfie?