Chew On This: Senses, pop-up dinners and in-home dining experience

Chef John Panza (standing) speaks with guests of a pop-up dinner hosted by Senses at Groom Creek Schoolhouse in Prescott.

Courtesy photo/Brook Photography

Chef John Panza (standing) speaks with guests of a pop-up dinner hosted by Senses at Groom Creek Schoolhouse in Prescott.

Essentials

Who: Senses, pop-up dinner

Where: Prescott

Cost: Experiences are between $30 and $90

Online: www.SquareUp.com/store/senses

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A dish prepared during a recent pop-up dinner event put on by Senses.

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A dish prepared during a recent pop-up dinner event put on by Senses.

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Anna McDaniel, John Panza and Cassandra Hankison co-own and operate Senses, a pop-up dinners and in-home dining experience.

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A dish prepared during a recent pop-up dinner event put on by Senses.

A regular chef, a pastry chef and a “professional diner” walk out of a job to start a business together.

This isn’t a setup for some cliché joke, it’s how John Panza, Cassandra Hankison and Anna McDaniel first began working to build Senses, a pop-up dinners and in-home dining experience company.

The trio had been working for Capital Canyon Club in Prescott when they collectively decided the environment wasn’t properly feeding their creative appetites.

“Being in a private club and, therefore, not being available to the public was hard to do,” said Panza, who was Capital Canyon Club’s first executive chef.

So he busted out along with fellow foodies Hankison and McDaniel to begin coordinating dining events this last July where they could showcase their talents.

“We do three different things,” said McDaniel, who has been involved in the hospitality industry for about 15 years and does much of the marketing and customer-interaction work for Senses. “We do pop-up dinners, in-home dining and takeover experiences.”

Pop-up dinners are one-time food events that cater to adventurous diners looking for something different. Those put on by Senses are always at unique and intimate settings. Only 30 tickets are sold per event and diners are not notified of the location until 24 hours prior.

“They also don’t know the menu until they show up, so they’re truly along for the ride,” McDaniel said.

Senses hosted their first pop-up dinner at Groom Creek Schoolhouse, an historic schoolhouse and adjacent picnic area in Prescott National Forest off Senator Highway.

Takeover experiences are less surprising but just as interesting.

They’ll go into a food establishment during a low-business time or collaborate with the existing business to offer different flavors in a familiar setting for one day or evening.

They recently hosted a takeover at BiGA, offering a three course meal when the restaurant was closed.

In-home dining is exactly as it sounds. Senses comes to people’s homes and cooks a complete meal for whoever is invited by the homeowner. If requested, Panza can explain what he’s doing while he cooks, turning it into an educational experience as well.

“We don’t use the word catering, because that’s not really our gig, but we can pretty much do whatever somebody wants us to do,” McDaniel said.

Though new to Prescott, these business models are commonplace for many parts of the world.

“It’s one of the fastest growing food trends out there right now,” Panza said.

A common theme for pop-up restaurants that Senses also subscribes to is supporting local businesses and using locally sourced ingredients.

“Why do we need to outsource to other states when we’ve got some great stuff here?” said Hankison, a pastry chef within the group.

As for the food, Panza tends to draw from his Italian and Lebanese background.

“I use a lot of Mediterranean flavors and techniques, but with local ingredients,” Panza said.

Depending on the type of event and what guests request, prices for each experience currently vary between $30 and $90.

The group is trying to do eight events a month. To see what they have planned and purchase tickets, go to SquareUp.com/store/senses.