Food

Meet The Sydney Woman Who Turned Throwing Dinner Parties Into An Actual Career

Getting paid to eat nice food and throw parties. Not bad.

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Life is just one big surprise when you’re a kid. Everything is new and exciting and Santa Claus is a real guy who showers you in presents once a year for no apparent reason. The world is a huge adventure — and then you grow up and the surprises largely slow to a trickle.

Which is probably why folks in Sydney and Melbourne are going mad for Secret Foodies, a surprise dining concept 30-year-old entrepreneur Alex Adams dreamed up almost by accident in 2010. “I think as we get older we don’t get as many surprises in life so people just really love the chance to indulge in that element of surprise again,” she says.

Go back five years and Adams was a suit-wearing corporate working in recruitment. She fed her passion for writing by night, moonlighting as Ms Darlinghurst to tell the stories of Sydney’s best eateries and nightlife hotspots via her Eat Drink Play blog.

Adams says she loved Sydney but missed the small town friendliness of Broken Hill in outback New South Wales, where she grew up. How to break through the city clique and build genuine connections, she wondered?

“My mum’s Greek so my family food’s always been a way of expressing love and bringing everyone around the table,” she says. “I thought I could use food as a beautiful way of bringing people together.”

Inspired by guerrilla dining in London and New York, Adams threw her first secret dinner party in April 2010. She invited ten friends, secretly arranged the venue and kept mum about the location until a few hours before the dinner. The only rule: each friend had to invite a guest they had never met before. The event was ridiculously successful.

“That was on the Friday and I couldn’t sleep all weekend. My mind was racing and I was so excited, thinking: ‘Oh my god, I’ve found what I want to do.’ I went in on Monday and quit my job,” Adams says.

Secret Foodies has since held almost 200 surprise dining events across Sydney and Melbourne, popping up in random laneways, rooftops, warehouses, parks, restaurants and even a heritage-listed barn. Adams now coordinates private functions too, and that little Eat Drink Play blog has grown into a Sydney mainstay with more than 30,000 subscribers.

Adams says making the leap of faith to follow her passion meant redirecting the tidy nest egg she’d saved for a house deposit into her fledgling business, as well as taking a massive wage cut at first.

“I think I made $30,000 in my first year, yet I’d never felt more proud. My accountant looked at me with pitying eyes but I was like: ‘Yes! I made that!’” she says. Last year, Adams came full circle and bought an apartment in Surry Hills.

In the early days Adams also had to come to terms with being a one-person fix-it for everything from business accounting to IT dramas. “But then I learnt you don’t have to be the best at everything. I’m good at sales and marketing but I’m not good at numbers and I’m not amazing at technical stuff. So now I outsource that stuff,” she says.

Adams reckons anyone considering quitting their job to set up their dream business should run the idea by a few trusted friends first. Then, once you’re pretty sure you’re onto a winner, it’s time to unleash the passion. That begins with believing in yourself and your idea, even when other people don’t, Adams says.

“Getting chefs, restaurants and hospitality people to believe in me was a really big thing, probably more of a challenge than customers. Customers were like ‘yeah that’s an awesome idea, let’s do it’ but having venues that would actually trust that I’d do a good job was a really big thing to overcome,” she says.

Then, says Alex, as the kernel of an idea begins to morph into a business, you have to adopt an unstoppable attitude and be prepared to engage in loads of “every day hustling”.

“If you want to make something happen, you have to give it everything otherwise it won’t develop,” she says. “It sounds so cliché but I always think from little things big things grow. Secret Foodies was this little seed of an idea that I just nurtured and it grew.”

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Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance writer living in Spain. She blogs at The She Makes Magic and tweets at @KorenHelbig.

Feature image via Secret Foodies/Facebook.