Why pasta sauce dinners?
Why pasta sauce dinners?
There was a 2015 Cornell University Study that came out that showed that firefighters who ate spaghetti at the firehouse together performed better as a team, and would actually save more lives. So there’s something extremely human, and extremely simple, about coming together around gluten, alcohol, and tears. Why pasta? It’s very easy for us to delegate tasks, and shared activities, empowering the attendees to work together to create the meal, and learn to serve each other. Pasta is simple to cook. Simple to eat. And simple to clean up.
How do you think the unique format of your dinners resonates with so many people?
Our dinners resonate with so many people because it offers them a chance to connect, to take a pause on their daily life, to reflect on the past, and to experience the comfort of family. So at our dinners, 6:30 PM, cocktails begin; 8 PM, dinner is served, but at 7:47 PM, we delegate tasks, empowering the attendees to work together to create the meal. So whether you were raised up in a great family and you miss that from your childhood, or you were raised in a fractured home and never got that at all, the simple act of people coming together to cook for each other, serve each other, and eat together is a very comforting thing in this digital disconnected world we live in. So often, we spend time worrying about the future, where the future is filled with doubt. When being around the dinner table with 18 strangers allows you to take a pause and reflect on where we’ve come from. At every dinner, we ask the same question:
If you could give credit or thanks to one person in your life that you don’t give enough credit or thanks to, who would that be?
Creating a safe space for people to give gratitude to others helps people connect around the dinner table, develop greater empathy, and become a little bit less lonely.
What’s the biggest dinner you’ve ever hosted?
160 people. It was at the common area at the 36th Street WeWork Penn Station on July 19, 2016. We made so much pasta by partnering with a wonderful organization called the Easter Seals Foundation, it’s the country’s largest provider of disability services to folks living with autism and veterans with PTSD. And through their partnership with a great organization called FEDCAP, they own a building at 210 E 43rd St, where I got to use their commercial kitchen, and cook ALL of the pasta sauce and ALL of the ice-cream with their young adults with autism and veterans with PTSD that are in their workforce development programs. They then attended the dinner afterwards. We literally carried all the stuff from East 43 over to WeWork Penn Station. It was amazing!
You’re in the midst of your yearlong study on how gratitude and empathy affect entrepreneurship. Can you share any learnings with us now?
Yeah! So to date, we’ve completed 993 interviews in the last 5 months. Our 1,000 interview is this Friday with an author by the name of Chester Elton, who wrote a book by the name “The Carrot Principle” that’s sold millions of copies in 30 languages. And so our research study has led us to understand that what we’re trying to bring to this world is to help people become a little bit less lonely, and to help develop greater empathy. Empathy is an end-of-the-road noun or adjective or adverb, whatever it is. In order to develop empathy, you have to take action. And the action that we use, the tool we’ve invented to develop greater empathy, is to give gratitude to others. So when we ask our gratitude question - if you could give credit or thanks to one person - that’s the tool needed to help people develop greater empathy for each other. When you can ask someone to tell a story of someone from their past that’s either helped them or hurt them, a positive or negative experience that they don’t give enough credit or thanks to, you hear stories of perseverance, regret, shame, personal liberation, connection. Those stories you hear from the person you ask that question to develop greater empathy for the person you’re listening to. So in the 1,000 interviews we’ve done, 25.6% of our respondents have given voice to their mothers. Only .2% have given voice to themselves. We’ve heard great stories of people overcoming fear. For instance, a man lost at sea while scuba diving, the boat drove away from him, having him just swim around for 8 hours, he gave credit and thanks to the person who rescued him, because when the man pulled him up on the boat, he gave him food, he gave him water, he made him dry, and then he PUSHED him back into the sea. So that Thomas would not be afraid of scuba diving for the rest of his life. We’ve heard stories of people overcoming fear in the MOMENT fear arises.
We’ve heard stories of forgiveness. This one single mother who gave credit and thanks to her own mother, who gave her up for adoption at the age of 8, re-adopted her at the age of 14, only to then kick her back out on the city streets with her two younger siblings. But now that this person is a single mother herself, her mother full-circle has become the best grandmother she could ever ask for. So while someone may have failed as a mother, they have succeeded through the intergenerational transfer of wisdom as a grandmother.
We were empowered to complete this great deal of interviews with a wonderful partnership with Alpha HQ.
My father’s day gift to my dad was a promise that I would carry on his greatest legacy. Many people know my dad as a real estate agent. What they don’t know is he has been a very successful motivational publishing author for over 40 years. And THAT is his greatest legacy. I’ve made a commitment to write a book about our findings, and to share the stories of those who have given gratitude to the unsung heroes in their life.
If someone wants to start applying more principles of gratitude and empathy in their lives, where would you suggest they begin?
I mean, the obvious answer is for me to say: pick a partner. Go to a quiet space. And ask them the question of gratitude. Learn how to not speak, and just listen silently, while they’re answering. Learn how to ask deeper follow-up questions that don’t end in a yes or a no. For instance, after you ask the original question, you could ask:
What values have you learned from this person?
What do you think that person saw in you that inspired them to invest in the relationship?
If that person could teach a class to the people in your life today, what would you have them teach?
And finally, if you could say one thing to that person, right now in this moment, what would you say to them?
Those series of questions, performed over 5 minutes of conversation, will create greater empathy, and develop a deeper, longer-lasting, more loyal and profitable relationship than you could have ever done in months of getting to know them.
What are some books you’d recommend?
I would recommend, number one, THE THIRD DOOR by Alex Banayan.
I would recommend FRIEND OF A FRIEND by David Berkus.
I would recommend BACK TO HUMAN by Dan Schawbel.
I would recommend GIFTOLOGY by John Ruhlin.
And I would recommend SUCCESS IS IN YOUR SPHERE by Zvi Band.
How do you stay inspired?
Is it alright if we reframe that question? One would look at what we do and say “You spend so much energy serving others and creating space for others, how do you keep up your energy?”
Our reply to that would be: we invest heavily in the emotional and mental well-being of ourselves and our team. We give our employees days off, paid time off, to go volunteer. We invest in meditation. We invest in cuddle therapy. And we invest in Reiki energy healers. So that the more energy we put out, the more energy we have to receive.
As far as your work on OHenry Productions, OHenry’s been involved with some exciting projects like Bryan Cranston in NETWORK, Bette Midler’s production of HELLO, DOLLY and the Cyndi Lauper-composed KINKY BOOTS, and the upcoming THE INHERITANCE and Darren Brown's SECRET. What qualities do you personally find most compelling about various shows and productions?
You know, I think the ability to reach mass markets with a message. I think what’s enticing about theater, and also the social campaign we produced for veterans - in 2015, Memorial Day, we produced and distributed a 5.5 minute video giving tribute and thanks to our veterans in efforts to lower the suicide and depression rates for veterans with PTSD, we enlisted over 1,000,000 people to take action in our campaign, and received over 30,000,000 views of our video, winning 2 Emmy Awards in the process. And what was so neat about that is that’s a legacy piece. At 7:47, we’re not aiming to scale a company. We’re not aiming to have our company grow larger than just a few of us. But through media, whether it’s theater or social campaigns, we can reach tens of millions of people with just the click of a button. And God willing, if we save just one life with that video, we’d call that a life well-lived.
Our legacy lives on forever through this one video.
What are you most excited about coming up for the rest of 2019 and into 2020?
I’d say visiting artists around the world whose products we use on a daily basis. I’m going to invest a lot of time, effort, and money into traveling the world to meet the people who hand-made the cheese we use at every dinner, who hand-distill the tequila, that we drink at every gathering, the grapes with E&J Gallo winery that we drink in every wine we serve, with every pasta sauce that helps empower human connection. And we’re really excited about traveling a lot more to see their work. Going to Italy, going to the West Coast, going to France, going to Mexico, to appreciate the artists whose crafts we use on a daily basis. We use Pecorino Romano Fulvi from ForeverCHeese.com, and their grower of cheese outside of Rome in the hills, they are the last multi generational producers of Pecorino Romano around Rome. And one of our partners which we use their wine at every dinner is the world’s largest winery E&J Gallo wine. And we want to go to Santa Barbara to meet the women winemakers of Santa Barbara County and Sonoma County, because in the month of November, E&J Gallo are celebrating Women Winemakers of the World. So we’re going to celebrate that with them.
And Compoveda Tequila is a super-premium, multi-year aged anejo that’s doing tequila the right way. There’s a family that’s been distilling tequila for multiple generations, and our friends Chris and Keith had to spend three years “dating” the family just to prove that their intentions were pure. So we’ll be going to Tequila Country with Compoveda, just to help work the farm.
We’re excited to continue diving dinner into the Jewish Tradition of Shabbat dinners with a twist - all the Shabbat dinners we produce around the world are South Carolina low country boil style. A low country boil means you take a big pot, fill it with water, and put shrimp, corn, sausage, and potatoes and Old Bay seasoning, you cook it, strain it, and dump it on a giant table covered with newspapers, and you sit around the table eating the food. We do those in partnership with OneTable and Shusterman Reality Israel. And that’s just a few things!
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