Shannon Kuhn: 'Family dinner': it might look different, but the principle is the same

Food & CultureJanuary 24, 2014 

Sitting down for 'family dinner,' Rosey Robards, Brian Hagenbuch, Ryan Brooks, Thomas Strapko, Joni Haas, Richard Barnhart, Eric Stumke, Sara Schroeder and Faon O'Connor.


This week I met a group of friends at what they affectionately call "family dinner."

They have been hosting it at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub every Sunday for the past 10 years. For Joni Haas and Ryan Brooks, the "founding family" of the dinners, it started simply as a time to have a pause in their busy lives and reconnect. Some weeks only three people show up; other times it's an animated crew of 30. This week there were 10, and it was a reunion of sorts.

At the table this week was Thomas Strapko, an eight-year veteran of family dinner, who had just gotten back from traveling the world for six months. Faon O'Connor, another long-time attendee, was in Anchorage on a break from graduate school in Australia, and family dinner was high on her list of must-dos while in town. Strapko and O'Conner were thrilled to be back around the table. "When you come back to family dinner you feel like you're really home," Haas said.

They consider the staff at Bear Tooth part of the family. "Regulars like these guys are what make my day. I've been their server for almost two years," said Hayley, who waited on them that Sunday. She gave Strapko a hug -- the last time she'd seen him was at family dinner before he left for his trip.

The most frequently used word to describe the group? "Boisterous," says Brooks. Adds Strapko, "to the random passerby, we are just a huge boisterous family."

At about 11 p.m. we headed home, full of seared salmon tacos, blackened chicken nachos and spinach salad. Joni's words echoed in my head. "This group is the family I got to choose," she said. "It's one of the biggest blessings of my life."

For Haas and Brooks, the small act of eating with friends every Sunday has become a tradition and a way to grow relationships. "It's about friendship and connections, and it's something we try to live by," Strapko said.

In our fast-paced society, making time to eat with friends and family is often not the top priority. We are constantly multitasking, writing to-do lists as fast as we are checking things off, and driving from one meeting to the next. Author Michael Pollan declared in his most recent book, "Cooked," "The whole social institution of eating together is fracturing and breaking down." He pointed to the drift in the last 50 years towards eating in isolation, in front of the television set, in the car or at our desks.

Reclaiming dinner is more important than ever. To one person, it might be cooking and sitting down every night with children or grandparents. To another, it could be rotating houses for a themed dinner once a week. To the Haas-Brooks crew, it's eating tacos at Bear Tooth every Sunday. While the definition of the family dinner means something different to each person, the concept remains the same.

Sit down around a table. Eat food with people you love.

Shannon Kuhn lives in Anchorage, where she writes about food and culture.


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