Invite yourself to an “After Hours” dinner party. No boring speakers, no rubber chicken.

Recently I was a guest at a lavish dinner party where the evening’s theme seemed to be nothing more than putting 12 people (who were connected to the invitee, but not necessarily to one another) around a table in a private home to see where the discussion might lead. It was just before the election, and there was a mix of high-ranking Dems and Reps there, along with some reps from the business world.

It was a hoot — and we did not talk politics, hallelujah.

First of all, the food was amazing. It was cooked by the chef of Cottage Grove’s 1855 Saloon & Grill, who brought along a server to our host’s home to be certain the meal was brought to the table just right (heated in the host’s kitchen, etc.). The meal was accented with three different chocolate gourmet delights on each desert plate. Dinner doesn’t get any better than that one (unless my pal Nino Amato cooks, of course — no one can beat his Italian cuisine).

The highlight of the dinner conversation was the opportunity to meet some new folks and get reacquainted with others. For example, while playing the “how many degrees of separation” game to discover links to others around the table, I realized I recognized a woman lobbyist. Someone else in the group mentioned that she was an art collector and suddenly I definitely placed her in my mind — not her name or her professional reputation, but an image of her standing in a doorway.

“Do you live in Monona on the lake?” I asked her. Yes. “Do you have amazing art in the entryway of your home, like a display?” Yes. (Authentic delight and puzzlement showed on her face about then). “Well, I’m the woman who showed up on your doorstep about a year ago with my husband, holding a strawberry-rhubarb pie, looking for the Siebert’s new condo. Our friends had just moved into a new condo with your same apartment number but in the adjoining unit. You helped me figure that out. I said I’d consider giving you my pie if you’d show me more artwork in your home, and you showed me around!”

Now recognition flashed on her face. “That was you?!” she asked, incredulous. “It was in winter, and you were taking them the pie as a housewarming present?”

“Bingo! That was me!” I answered.

We didn’t even need one person between us to connect our paths (unless you count Terry and Kathy Siebert back in the original scenario).

I love these impromptu, crazy dinners. I say impromptu, because I think Lisa Nelson invited me to come at the last minute when someone else had to cancel — but I was happy to be able to do it, because I know that anything Lisa Nelson is involved in is going to be fun. She has enough personality for three folks, and she’s just a delight to be around.

In fact, after the dinner, Lisa and I came to the agreement that we should put together such events as an ongoing deal — put 8 to 10 people at random around a table and see how they are connected, and see where the conversation goes. Of course, we’re not going to buy dinner or pay to have it catered, as our host did — I’d then be stressed out trying to make sure the evening was perfect, or the food was, etc., and we’d have to worry about whose turn it was to buy. That is not our mission. Our mission is to have fun.

Summary: If you’re interested in a “Dinner with Jody & Lisa” event, expect to buy your own appetizers, meals and drinks and e-mail me at your name and your profession (so we can mix things up). Soon we’ll start putting together dates. We’d like some young start-up entrepreneurs as well as established business/political folks.

At the last event, we learned all about a bioscience start-up and I think the founder actually got a new investor from the way the table talk naturally progressed. But warning — no overt company or sales pitches will be allowed because it’s a social dinner with new friends, not a leads meal. The bioscience guy simply answered our questions and we then sold ourselves on his company.

We’ll do one or two dinners this winter. We’ll first eat at Monona Grill, which has very moderately priced food and a bar, and for the second event, we’ll go to the far east side (Snug Erin’s Irish Pub) and then later, to the far west for another dinner. Wherever we go, Lisa will sit on one end of the table and I’ll sit on the other and we’ll toast to new faces and old friends.

Also, you should know that Lisa and I reserve the right to fill four of the eight guest seats from our “wish list” of people we’d like to dine with, so we can guarantee the evening will be fun. No painfully boring speakers, no rubber chicken. How many business dinners promise that?! So sign up soon; seats will go fast.

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