For most college students, dorm cooking means ramen or mac and cheese. But Columbia University senior Jonah Reider has taken college cuisine to a new level, opening a gourmet restaurant in his New York City dorm room.
And it's a hit—reservations are already booked through the end of the year.
He officially started the "New American" restaurant, called Pith, two weeks ago after regularly making dinners for his friends. Guests dine in the common space he shares with three other roommates.
"Eating ended up being a really important part of my social experience because I love cooking for people and my friends were always happy to come eat my food," Reider told me. He takes reservations for dinner every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday night on the restaurant's Yelp site.
Each meal is between five and ten small courses, and Reider, 21, experiments with a variety of ingredients and dishes. "I have never repeated a meal," he said. "No one will ever have the exact same experience dining at Pith."
The restaurant went viral when the Columbia Spectator, the student newspaper, wrote an article about it. “I didn’t expect people to literally sign up for every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday with no end,” Reider said. “Somebody booked Thanksgiving online, which is like, obviously I’m not going to be here on Thanksgiving.”
The restaurant doesn't make a profit—he only charges for the cost of ingredients, usually between $10 and $20. Running a real business out of a dorm room would be against university rules. The setup also prevents him from facing scrutiny from health officials, Reider said, although a city health department spokesperson told Gothamist that "we're looking into this."
Some of the highlights of the dishes he's served this week include a shaved fennel salad, red kale soup, lamb shoulder blade chops, and popcorn with dark chocolate and chilis. So far, the reception has been pretty positive—it has four five-star reviews on Yelp. "Easily the best experience available in Morningside Heights," one reviewer wrote (although that's not saying much).
"I think eating should be a very temporal experience, like listening to music," he said while selecting groceries. "There are ideas and motifs in the food and the flavors that show up all of the time."
But he doesn't want to come off as too hoity-toity. "It’s not supposed to be one of the super pretentious places where you get 30 microscopic courses," he said.
Reider, who's majoring in sociology and economics, said it's not a "sustainable" business model. But in the future, he wants to open his own restaurant. He imagines a kind of snack bar that would also be an art and music space. "I wouldn’t want to have it acquiesce to all the pretension and formality of a little restaurant," he said.
For now, Reider cooks, talks with his diners, washes the dishes, and handles reservations himself. "It hasn’t been hard at all until this shit got really popular," he said. "Before it was fine because my workload has been pretty chill given that I’m a senior."
After the increased media attention, he's having to answer emails and deal with people begging for a reservation. He also might have to sit down for a discussion with his roommates.
"They for sure were fine with it when it was a more casual thing," he said. "I think now we’ll need to revisit that.”
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.