Alum brings social dining venture to Freeman

Francisco "Paco" Robert (MBA '11) brought his modern supper club Dinner Lab to the Freeman School for a live case study.

Francisco “Paco” Robert (MBA ’11) brought his modern supper club Dinner Lab to the Freeman School for a live case study.

As Al Green croons in the background, a chef assembles small plates of sous vide pork belly with shiso and corn espuma at a workstation in the front of the room. Francisco “Paco” Robert, the evening’s host and server, distributes those plates to a collection of young diners seated at two long, candlelit tables.

The scene may sound like something out of a trendy restaurant, but the dining room is actually an MBA classroom.

Robert (MBA ’11) brought his fast-growing startup Dinner Lab to the Freeman School last fall for a live case study on the innovative supper club.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Robert co-founded Dinner Lab to create one-of-kind experiences for adventurous eaters. For an annual fee of $100 to $175, members are invited to special communal dining events (costing $60 to $85 per person all inclusive) presided over by up-and-coming chefs and hosted in extraordinary locations. One dinner took place on the 21st floor of a building undergoing renovation. Another was held in an abandoned church off Magazine Street.

While the diners get a fun, unique fine-dining experience, the chefs get unbiased feedback on new dishes that may end up on restaurant menus in the near future.

The case study was part of New Product Development in the Hospitality Industry, an MBA elective that focuses on innovation in the hospitality sector.

“The course was created to focus students on the consumer experience in hospitality-related ventures,” says Ralph Maurer, professor of practice and instructor in the course. “From that perspective, it was great to be able to bring in Paco to talk with students about the business and what he’s done to create this very successful, very innovative product.”

Since its launch in New Orleans in 2012, Dinner Lab has branched out into 19 cities across the country, and it recently raised $2.1 million in seed capital to help fund its expansion. Despite the rapid growth, however, Robert says the focus of the concept remains the same as when he started.

“It’s all about the food, the people and the experience,” Robert says.

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