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CBS 2 Investigation: Underground — And Illegal — NYC Dinner Parties

Clandestine Gatherings Popping Up All Over -- And Are Completely Unregulated
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NEW YORK (CBS 2) — As you sit down to dinner, this story illustrates eating out like you have never experienced before. We are talking about super-secret, illegal dining experiences hosted in homes.

CBS 2 investigative reporter Tamara Leitner went undercover to see firsthand how this underground world works.

It may look like a dinner party, but it’s really an underground supper club.

The diners are a mix of New Yorkers and tourists. CBS 2’s undercover cameras captured one experience — eight people who didn’t know each other eating a meal in a stranger’s home.

That hostess, Naama Shafi, writes about food but is not a chef. Leitner found her through a website, which connects amateur foodies and professional chefs in 20 different countries with people who want unique dining experiences.

Clandestine dinner parties like the one Leitner attended have become more common in New York City. And insiders told Leitner they are completely unregulated.

When asked at the dinner, “do you ever worry about getting caught?” Michael Patlazhan responded, “I definitely do.”

Patlazhan is a professional chef who also hosts underground supper clubs. He cooks with blow torches, nitrogen and even a vacuum machine to create unusual meals.

“That’s the things with supper clubs, they’re in a sense illegal just because they are underground no one knows about them. So if the Health Department did come they would obviously shut it down. So there’s always a little bit of worry,” Patlazhan said.

To stay under the radar, Patlazhan changes the location every time and keeps the guest list exclusive through a members-only website.

“It’s definitely kind of a secret and I think that’s the interesting part about it. And a lot of it is word of mouth,” Patlazhan said.

But some critics have concerns about these unregulated dinner parties.

“It definitely falls into a gray area,” said Leon Lubarsky, owner of Letter Grade Consulting.

Lubarsky’s staff of retired New York City health inspectors advises restaurants on health regulations.

When asked if the underground restaurants should be regulated, Lubarsky told Leitner, “Yes, they should be regulated by the same system that regulates every restaurant in New York City.”

The Health Department refused to discuss the issue on camera but in a statement told CBS 2: “In New York City, people who offer meals to the public for money are considered food service establishments and need permits. The city does not allow meals to be served to members of the public in someone’s home.”

So, Leitner went back to ask Shafi about the dinner parties.

Leitner: “You guys are breaking the law by serving people meals and charging.”

Shafi: “Yeah. The reality is they are here and people really love them.”

In the meantime, foodies like Shafi and professional chefs like Patlazhan continue to host these covert supper clubs.

“I want to do it as much as possible so my goal would be to do it two to three times a week, so kind of like a restaurant on the weekends,” Patlazhan said.

But if caught hosting an underground dinner party, the hosts could be fined $2,000 and ordered to shut down.

The price to get into one of these underground supper clubs ranges from $40 to several hundred. Some of the hosts say they are in it simply for the love of food, while others hope to turn a profit.

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