What's Taste Club and why are restaurants selling it?
A conversation with founder Joshua Kopel
How much might someone pay to experience the best version of the best restaurants?
The digital era has ushered in an age of everything-can-be-bought-and-sold, including the experience of special treatment at a lauded hotspot. So of course there’s a correct answer to my question, and that answer is in the interview below.
But first, the backstory. A couple months ago, emails from restaurants promoting something called Taste Club trickled into my inbox. They were from Union Square Hospitality’s Gramercy Tavern in New York, from my local favorites Lazy Bear and Mister Jiu’s in San Francisco. There was even an email from the James Beard Foundation, noting that Taste Club named the Foundation as its principal beneficiary.
Taste Club promises members access to exclusive tasting menus and bespoke travel experiences. It’s a luxury concierge service that vets its members and handles booking and ordering at lots of restaurants you’ve absolutely heard of. It introduces a new layer of fancy into an experience — restaurant dining — that we’re already familiar with. Not everyone’s onboard.
Last week, storied food writer, editor, and fellow Substacker Ruth Reichl railed against it in her newsletter,. “This ‘service’ takes everything I love about restaurants and turns it on its head,” Reichl wrote, lamenting the introduction of exclusivity “to places that once belonged to us all.”
Taste Club founder and former restaurateur Joshua Kopel describes it differently. He says it’s partially about bringing paying customers the kind of experiences that people on the inside of the restaurant industry have long enjoyed, like special menus, extra-special wines, and white-glove treatment.
“If intention is worth anything, I want to show the world that there is a way to support restaurants while building out a great business and supporting stakeholders,” Kopel told me in a recent interview. “This business was designed in a way that everyone involved benefits, and it’s a light lift for everyone. Everybody’s sitting in their circle of genius: restaurateurs and chefs want to do fun, creative, experiential things. We pair the people that want to do that with the people who want exactly that.”
Paraphrased, that sounds like: find the people with the money, offer them something incredibly exclusive, and then profit. Or, rather, profit-share with restaurant partners, and donate some of the proceeds to worthy causes, too. (Taste Club extends beyond restaurants to travel and events; its partner list is much longer than the restaurants in my inbox.)
Kopel maintains the cost of membership, while substantial, is “dead center in the luxury concierge market.” He also shares more about the concept, including why a robust restaurant roster is so important, in our chat below.
Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.