A Newton Native Is Running a ‘Restaurant’ Inside His Columbia University Dorm
Jonah Reider, who graduated from Newton South High School, finds the attention bemusing.
“I don’t see this as very innovative,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s like a dining club, which happens all over New York City and Boston. I just like to cook in a casual sense and think of food as a way to connect people.”
Reider officially set up Pith—described on Yelp as “a relaxing supper club and dining experience”—about two weeks ago inside his suite at Hogan Hall, an upperclassman residence hall, which he shares with three roommates.
But his culinary experiments, which now yield dishes like roasted celery root soup and seared scallops with chanterelle polenta, began two and a half years ago, when he started to share home-cooked meals with friends who agreed to split the cost of ingredients.
“It’s more cost-efficient to cook for more people than just yourself,” he explained.
Aside from the economical aspect, Reider also enjoyed the company, which then inspired him to share his food beyond his friend circle.
“Growing up, we didn’t go out to eat very much. Family dinners were a reoccurring thing. I see Pith as somewhere in between a restaurant and a family dinner,” he said. “It’s a genuinely social experience.”
Reider set up an online reservation system, as well as an online phone number—”I’ve been getting too many calls on my cell,” he said—for Pith. He serves dinner four nights a week, with a maximum capacity of four people.
Although Reider does accommodate dietary restrictions, he doesn’t share the menu with guests until they get there, following a model similar to the one at Peter Ungár’s Tasting Counter inside Aeronaut Brewing.
The cost varies from $10 to $20 a person, directly related to the cost of ingredients—Reider makes no profit from the venture.
“I think making a profit kind of distorts some of the aims of Pith,” he said. “I can’t imagine opening up a restaurant or being called a chef—I don’t aspire to have a space where people come in and pay a lot of money. That’s not truly a social experience.”
Instead, Reider is more interested in setting up a music venue, where people could attend performances and art shows—while eating “amazing snacks.”
But for now, he aims to continue running Pith, which is completely booked through January and has about 400 reservations on the waiting list. Since its opening, the clientele has expanded from Columbia students to alumni, and now, as it gains more attention, Reider has been getting inquiries from “bankers, lawyers, architects, and magazine editors” both from New York City and beyond.
“There are people from Los Angeles willing to fly out here,” he said.
Although his roommates have been accommodating so far, Reider is considering decreasing the offerings to one or two nights a week.
“My roommates wouldn’t be cooking as much anyway, but it’s not fair to monopolize the common space,” he said. “That’s been something to negotiate and discuss.”
Reider, who’s staying in New York City rather than returning to Newton, plans to take time over winter break to mull over logistics, such as the prospect of having to sign non-students into his dorm.
“This raises a lot of interesting questions about what a legitimate eating experience is,” he said. “Obviously, eating dinner with your family is not a restaurant, and having friends over for dinner and sharing the cost is not a restaurant, but is it a restaurant when random people are trying to come and have that experience?”