The gent planned a date night with the winning combination of food (JomJom Malay – spankin’ good menu), gin cocktails (the speakeasy that can not be named – standard super) and movie. The idea of Secret-Stevie watching Secret Superstar (solid performances by Zaira Wasim & Meher Vij) tickled his funny bone more than it ought to have. With zero information about the movie, I skipped along, mostly excited about that tub of half-cheese-half-caramel popcorn (yes, I, um, had supper right before).
45 minutes into the movie, the penny dropped. Seated in the middle of a loud and crowded (the joys of mid-movie-mobile-neighbours) screening room, I managed to hover above and have an out-of-body experience. Without revealing the plotline and sounding like a self-indulgent ar$e, I doubt there was anyone in that 200-capacity-hall who could draw personal parallels to (parts of) the story as I could. The burning desire to showcase something alternative in a noisy landscape, muddled with the forbidden apple of secrecy, drizzled with generous amounts of excitement, and tightly cling-filmed with tongue-biting anonymity : who knows this better than….. Delhi Secret Supper Club?
9 months post Revelation 01, here is the big scoop* on the who, what, where and how of the sub-continent’s only secret supper club that kept India guessing for 4 years.
“Why was DSSC a secret?”
This is the number one question I got asked this year.
The slick elevator-pitch to this question is, “I wanted to conduct a disruptive social experiment in a noisy, hyper-marketed and copycat landscape where the dynamics were riddled with tight cliques, herd mentality, and resistance to change.” The not-so-slick wine-in-hand perched-on-couch response to this question is, “Why not? Rewind to 2012. How many times did you have the opportunity to meet pre-screened like-minded and fascinating strangers in a safe and curated environment? How many times did you feel that sinking feeling in your gut about moving back to Delhi? How many experiences left you wondering “wtf was that?” followed by a huge grin.”
I moved back to Delhi after spending substantial time studying and working in England. Of all the relationships I’ve been in, my alliance with London remains the most impactful, meaningful and firmly in the zone of “till death do us part” (not a promising piece of information to share with the gent, now is it?). Not only did it build my work ethic and ignite my love for words, London revealed the joy of non-discriminatory conversation, possibility of making friends into your late 20s and questions like “where do you live / do you know xyz” rarely made an appearance in pub-conversations. The underwhelming and dull conversation in Delhi would often see me uncharacteristically retire from grimace-worthy pretentious social gatherings. This was in stark contrast to the evenings spent at my local pub where the lady on my left was the City’s leading investment banker who just closed down a milestone deal and the gent on my right who had just finished up the day’s work at a construction site on Liverpool Street. The banter would range from the weather (typical), horrified Aunt Lizzy who can’t hear too well and misunderstood “I may” to “I’m gay”, Boris Johnson, football (zero contribution here), “did you go to school on an elephant” (always responded with a yes), planning a vacation across India (“I can’t wait to see the cows”). After sufficient gintos and laughs, we would bid adieu after an enjoyable evening. My first few months in Delhi were interspersed with experiences where people who couldn’t hold a conversation for more than 6.5 minutes or overzealous men who’d ask if I live alone within 6.5 minutes. There was limited scope to meet new and interesting people and there was limited access to Netflix. After an ultimatum from the ‘rents to either suck it up or move back to London, I hatched a social experiment. A social experiment that defied the then current rules of our concrete jungle.
From the comforts of my bedroom, with Zara snoring by my side at 3am, Delhi Secret Supper Club crept into the social fabric of New Delhi in March 2013.
“Why did DSSC reveal the secret?”
Other than my immediate family and 2 friends (who are family), no one in the world knew when and how I conceptualised DSSC. 5 more people were told over the 4 years of dual living – 3 of which I massively regret sharing with. The modus operandi included:
- Kickstart two new companies with an active set of clients and events/deliverables to justify why I was always busy (doing DSSC-things)
- Beg and beg my mother to wear a wig and other clever guises to deliver the trademark-DSSC-name tags and ensure the tables were set as per our pre-designed layout
- Date someone who had no idea I ran DSSC and who understandably ended things because I was always suspiciously “busy at work” (how you like me now b***h. Just kidding)
- Sleep 4 hours/day so that I could run 3 companies (boutique advisory, NGO foundation, and DSSC) and also meet the ever-angry F&F
- Work with the country’s leading F&B brands, bars, and restaurants in an unprecedented manner of functioning – emails, Skype calls (with voice diffusers), private mobile numbers. There was no exception to this no-facetime rule, not even for the “do you know who I am?” honchos
- Build a team, who were finally told about Stevie’s identity 30 days before Revelation 01. To them, I was, at max, the Delhi Manager
It was logistically challenging and personally frustrating, but if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing (minus telling those 3 dweebs). The thrill of hearing someone at a dinner proudly announce, “Of course I know who runs DSSC. I was partying with them in Bombay** last weekend. I’ll get you in” or gauging the success of the evening based on the loudness of laughter wafting up to my hiding spot on the roof of the restaurant or engaging in legendary banter with the Club members over email. DSSC took the avatar of people’s imagination and despite being anonymous, built warm, trustworthy and loyal friendships with the city’s worthiest influencers (before that word became a frivolous tag that can now be purchased and will see the same death as “Page 3 socialite”. Mark my words).
We came out of the proverbial closet after a 6-month duel between the heart & mind. The heart said – stay anonymous, stay mysterious, stay the sub-continent’s only secret supper club. The mind said – seize the opportunity. Being on the cusp of unexpected growth and unanticipated scale, it was time to take the leap of faith. It wasn’t about the money (considering we’ve turned down investor-money 3 times now), it was about responding to the gap in the market for original, clever and creative curation. The gap that DSSC had become synonymous with filling.
“Do you guys make money? / What’s your revenue model?”
Yes, of course. From day one.
Whilst I appreciate the keen interest and curiosity attached with the balance-sheet of a new-age business model like DSSC, I’m not sure why people think I’d humour them with the company’s revenue model and financial forecast on a first date / mehendi function / dinner party / after party / boxing class / client pitch / movie interval / dengue blood test. Unless you’re Ashton Kutcher or Warren Buffett, the only response to this question is the cute combination of head-on-one-side + obviously fake smile + “who needs money when you can live on love & hope”.
Yes the report card is sprinkled with red marks that include phones that refuse to be quiet, founder depression, exhaustion-induced-meltdowns, a soured friendship, and legal-counselling to stop being trademark-cheeky on email. But since the secret is out, DSSC has managed to stick to its original motto of building memorable experiences for #OurCity. If you want great food, off-the-record dinner conversation, and wicked company – we’re one email away.
Oh and the ones who repeatedly tell us that we revealed the secret too early (4 years, you dweeb), I encourage you to keep a pivotal piece of information to yourself for one week. Go on, try it. And to answer the very first question in the title of this scribble, we’ve got way more tricks up our secret sleeve.
* I know no part of this scribble is a “scoop”. I’ve just always wanted to use it in a sentence other than when I’m ordering Salted Caramel ice-cream.
** Of the many stories I had crafted, the one that did the rounds most was that the DSSC Founders lived in Bombay.
Stevie Scribbles is a monthly feature where Stevie a.k.a Monica a.k.a Tara a.k.a Naina a.k.a Shreya (you get the drift) feels the itch to share her (possibly) wonky observations about the cultural landscape of the city. Please note that all observations and opinions are strictly hers and the Company, affiliates and main boss, Zara, don’t always endorse.