December 26, 2014
By Bryant Jackson-Green

A thriving entrepreneurial culture depends on the ability to experiment and take risks without begging for permission from the government.

Chicago regulators have moved to crack down on private dinner parties, following New York City’s lead.

According to Chicagoist, the city of Chicago issued a citation to Julia Pham, who ran Relish Underground Dining from her apartment in Lincoln Square, forcing her to shut down. Pham, according to the profile, is “a 20-something, self-taught chef who got her start in her aunt’s kitchen at Ba Le,” a popular Vietnamese restaurant with locations in Uptown and the Loop. She sees her project as a way to take a more creative approach to cooking, learning about food and sharing her food with guests.

Her experimental approach makes a lot of sense. Underground dining is an attractive option for entrepreneurs who want the flexibility to do what they love without the commitment of running a restaurant full time. And because it’s not a restaurant in the traditional sense, it makes little sense for Pham and others like her to jump through the city’s regulatory hoops – including the permits, fees, inspections, zoning restrictions and taxes that go along with them – which would kill this sort of small-scale dining before it even got started. The adventurous foodies who attend the underground dinners apparently agree.

In fact, cities should value experiments of this sort because of their potential to lead to successful new businesses down the line. Thrillist notes that 42 Grams, a Chicago restaurant that was just awarded two Michelin stars, got its start as an underground restaurant. In this regard, underground restaurants are no different from small businesses that start off in a garage, a parent’s basement or at home. A thriving entrepreneurial culture depends on the ability to experiment and take risks without begging for permission from the government. An experiment can then grow into a new business that makes all of us better off. But that can’t happen if local government decides to focus its efforts on shutting them down.

Besides, adults should be able to eat together without getting a bureaucrat’s permission first.

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TAGS: Chicago, red tape, regulations, restaurant, small business