Bona Sera, Ann Arbor’s secret supper club, provides great food and fun for charity.
But do not tell anyone. It really is a secret.
About 40 people gathered under a tent on a cool September night in Ann Arbor for a clandestine dinner party. The theme of the party was “Fairy Tales Under the Sea.” Guests dined on an elegant six-course meal featuring seafood and were entertained by a sea of drag queens.
This was not an ordinary dinner party. This was a Secret Supper Club.
Secret supper clubs, or underground restaurants, are food gatherings that are held in secret. They are run by passionate home cooks, local food advocates or rogue chefs looking to create adventurous food. They range greatly in size from intimate dinner parties for six to large events held in warehouses. Guests of these events are “foodies” who seek out unique food experiences.
Bona Sera is the brainchild of two women nicknamed “Bad Fairy” and “Wonder Woman.” Their real names, like their club, are also secret. They started Bona Sera in December 2008.
“I had worked with Clandestino in Chicago, and the Ghetto Gourmet in San Francisco,” said Wonder Woman, referring to other secret super clubs. “And when I moved to Ann Arbor, I thought starting a club would be a good way to meet people and be social.”
“The name Bona Sera is actually a typo for the Italian word buonasera, which means good evening,” Bad Fairy said with a wry smile. “Wonder Woman misspelled it, but we had already registered the Web domain name, so we stuck with it.”
To participate in a Bona Sera event, one has to first register online to be a on a mailing list. Announcements about upcoming events, which include the date, theme and menu, are posted on the website: bonaserasupperclub.com. Participants forward an e-mail to reserve a spot. The location, which is different each time, is not disclosed until a day before the event. Fans of Bona Sera generously donate their homes to host the secret suppers.
Why all the secrecy? Technically, these events are illegal. Only a licensed caterer can offer prepared food to the public for money out of a private home. Bona Sera, like most secret super clubs, does not have a license.
“We had some people who attended past events that were in a position to arrest us,” said Bad Fairy. “We could be fined.”
“And they would take our food away,” Bad Fairy said sadly.
“We use the words suggested donations,” said Wonder Woman. “And we change locations every time.” These were tricks that she picked up from Clandestino to avoid getting caught.
Guests do not have to pay any specific amount for the meal, but $50 is the suggested donation.
All of the money raised from these parties after the cost of food goes to charity. The charities for this event were Uncle Rock’s Place, an organization that provides support for patients with HIV/Aids and their families and The Ozone House Kicked Out Fund, which is a shelter for runaway gay, lesbian and transgender youth.
“We like to find organizations where a small amount of money would provide a larger impact,” said Wonder Woman. “This supper club raised about $1,200. We have raised around $10,000 for local charities.”
“Most people do this as a business,” said Wonder Woman. “We’re the only one I’ve read about who does it exclusively for charity.”
Bona Sera has an all-volunteer crew who works for free, including the entertainment. It has also established good relationships with local food suppliers like Monahan’s Seafood, which supports the club by providing discounts. These relationships mean that Bona Sera can raise more money for its charities.
The food for these events is eclectic, which mirrors both women’s food tastes and style.
One supper club featured a whole roasted pig. Another had a Mexican street food theme.
“People seem to like it. It is unique and invented,” said Bad Fairy. “A food critic commented that the squid was so tender that he thought it was pasta.”
“We try to put a twist on things,” said Wonder Woman. “We did a fried pig’s ear served with salad. And we did a Gorgonzola and burnt honey ice cream.”
“We drink wine, and it comes out of our head,” said Wonder Woman, referring to how they create a menu. “Themes come from a dish we want to do.”
Not all events go as smoothly as they would like. The grill stopped working at their largest-attended event, and on another occasion they stacked their home-made ravioli wrong, which resulted in them all sticking together. “It took us forever to get them apart and we were only able to serve one per person instead of three,” said Bad Fairy.
“The next will have a duck theme,” said Wonder Woman.
They are planning their next event sometime in early December. And there is talk of a future “mushroom theme.”
To get in on the secret, go the bonaserasupperclub.com and sign up to be on the mailing list.