“As far as loneliness, I feel Los Angeles and its layout, having to drive everywhere – it is a lonely place. It’s an isolated city in that respect because you’re driving to places alone listening to the radio.”
-Jason Schwartzman (Bored to Death, Rushmore, Phantom Planet)
Since moving to Los Angeles in 2004, I’ve been fascinated with the distinct culture of our fair city. It’s no secret that young people from all over the country flock to our corner of California, usually in hopes of “making it” in the entertainment industry. Living in Culver City, it feels like two out of every three young adults I meet are either trying to get a screenplay sold or get their acting reel in front of the right casting director.
And it’s not just the big studios that are attracting these hopeful and educated young minds. Our universities are among the best in the world, we’ve still managed to retain many innovative companies (despite Sacramento’s best efforts), we can still brag about our excellent weather, and the promise of a few celebrity sightings have also helped attract more than our share of 20- and 30-somethings.
This concentration of smart, young, professionals should make Los Angeles a friend-making paradise. Sadly, that has not been the experience of most people in my social circle. Many of my friends have either struggled to make new friends after college or can’t seem to find people with similar interests to do all of the fun things L.A. offers.
Common theories on the unique challenges to making new friends in Los Angeles include our car culture (there are more opportunities to meet people on public transit or while walking), people in LA are self-absorbed, rude and flaky (a theory I always refute), and the city’s sprawling geography. I believe that the obstacles to meeting new people in LA is a large part of the reason that online dating is so prevalent among all of the young professionals I know.
A recent conversation really got me thinking about how Los Angeles culture differs when it comes to social interactions. I recently attended the OK! Magazine’s “Sexy Singles” party at the Lexington Social House a couple of weeks ago. The guest list was split between people in the advertising industry and reality “stars.” (For those of you who know me well enough to know that I generally avoid these sort of events, you can look at the recent issue of OK! Magazine for proof).
At the party, my friend Vicki pointed out that no one mingles at these parties in Los Angeles. Sure enough, I noticed that everyone just talked to the people they came with. As an Angelino, this didn’t strike me as out of the ordinary. But then Vicki began telling me stories about people at her work that recently came from other cities. She told me about a friend in advertising who has had trouble adjusting to live in Los Angeles after relocating from San Francisco. In the Bay, he could just walk into any bar and start talking to people, and by last call, he’d have a couple of new friends. He can’t do that in L.A., since people are instantly suspicious of anyone approaching them they don’t know. This guy has been known to ask the tragically common question, “How do you meet people in LA?” I was told that at these industry parties in other cities, there is a completely different vibe. Everyone tries to engage in conversation with strangers, which leads to new friendships as well as an expanded network.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent considerable time trying to understand why this culture has developed in L.A. and ways we can meet this real need of increased social interaction. As it turns out, some smart and enterprising Angelinos have been doing more than just thinking about this problem.
Eight months ago, UC Berkeley graduates and Papa Beard franchisees Eddy Lu and Daishin Sugano launched GrubWithUs in Chicago. They recognized how tough it can be to meet new people, even (especially?) in a large city. More importantly, they understood the role food has always played in bringing people together. GrubWithUs is their attempt at making it a little easier to meet new people, over good food and even better conversation.
This is how it works: “Grubbers” browse the available dining events at GrubWithUs and once they find a restaurant and day that they like, purchase a seat at an 8-person table. The awkwardness of figuring out tax, tip, and then splitting the bill with a large group is eliminated. The price is all-inclusive, so all you have to worry about is showing up and making the most of your opportunity to meet new people. I love that the food is served family-style, with the forced physical interaction breaking down some natural barriers to getting a lively conversation started.
I’m excited that Eddy (29, Arcadia/Pasadena) and Daishin (30, Downey) are ready to launch GrubWithUs in their home turf of Los Angeles. Starting today, you can browse seven events at different restaurants across the city:
Shin, Hollywood (GrubWithUs Launch Meal)
Lala’s Argentine Grill, Mid-City West
Fritto Misto, Santa Monica
Geisha House, Hollywood
Toast, Santa Monica
Swill Automatic, Downtown
Bao Dim Sum House, Mid-City West
Haru Sushi in Mid-City West
I’ve also been told that they are going to announce Cayenne Cafe in Mid-City West and Musha in Santa Monica shortly. Cayenne Café doesn’t get enough love for how solid of a spot it is, and Musha has been on my to-try radar for awhile.
I’m more than a little intrigued by this concept. If executed well, I think this could make it that much easier to meet new people while trying a new restaurant. I’m looking forward to experiencing GrubWithUs first-hand, and will of course report back.
Is this the answer to how Angelinos who are craving new interactions can come together in a low-stress environment? I intend to find out.