RapidChat: Quynh Lai and Ben Wiley of Stock&Candor

Quynh Lai and Ben Wiley of Stock&Candor yearn for their guests to experience food in an entirely new way. The only stipulation: adventurous eaters who can enjoy all foods only. No picky eaters or dietary restrictions allowed.
Rapid Growth: When did you first start offering personal culinary experiences through Stock&Candor?

Quynh Lai: When we first met we would constantly talk and fantasize about what we would want to do in our own restaurant, so the ideas have been flowing for years now. Meanwhile, we were always hosting dinner parties or get-togethers that revolved around food; we would have an urge to smoke some chicken or make dumplings and invite our friends over to help eat. 

Ben Wiley: We finally figured out that people would be interested in paying for these meals, so in June 2017 we did our first pop-up. It was just a small one and we didn’t know if it would develop into anything at all! We just wanted to cook our food and not go broke doing it!

RG: What inspired the concept?

QL: At the time I found myself very unsatisfied with the menu and work I was doing at the restaurant I was at, and I was in extreme need to be able to put more of myself into the dishes that were being placed onto the dining tables. I am also always craving the food that I grew up with, which is not really available in Grand Rapids, so as I was making these dishes for myself I also had the desire to share them with others.

The Stock&Candor project is an outlet that allows us to “scratch our itches” as cooks — be able to present strong flavors unapologetically as well as practice and take note on the positive and negative outcomes of running an event, so that we can apply what we learn to our future restaurant (whenever that may be!).  

BW: I was less frustrated since my jobs were letting me do dishes to put out to guests. For me this project has been fun in that we are putting out food away from the typical restaurant setting. I like being able to offer the execution of a restaurant without the restrictions that we have to typically endure in that setting.  

RG: What can be anticipated throughout the experience?

BW and QL: A meal that is filled with the thought and care of our best abilities. The only major rule is that our guests are to be adventurous eaters who can enjoy all foods; no picky eaters or diet restrictions (we already do that all day at our restaurants).  After that hurdle, we will form an event around what we know of our guests to make them feel special. We are a team who live by a common philosophy, “learn, be creative, execute to the best of your ability, and share some cool food and drinks to those who want it."

RG: What sort of cuisine do you specialize in?

QL: Currently I am focused on sharing my Vietnamese cuisine since it is who I am at the core; I’ve found encouragement and excitement when people like the food so it pumps me up to reveal more and more! Most of my meals in both everyday life and celebratory [contexts] are Asian because it is the food my mom made for us, and it is food the whole family can enjoy. However I grew up in a diverse city, so there are many other cuisines that I am dying to cook for Stock&Candor.   

BW: Korean and Southern Soul American food; these are the two things that I lived with as part of my culture. The Korean part has always been me trying to discover my heritage, and southern food is what I remember enjoying as a kid from my mom and grandma.  

RG: Can you tell me more about Stock&Candor’s casual Sunday Meals?

QL: Most of our events are done on Sunday because it is the one day we all can have free from our other jobs. The Asian Brunch was our first casual three-course meal. This concept came up for many reasons. The first is from noticing how excited we all get when the sun has finally pushed away the cold winter; we all come alive with energy and I wanted to have a meal that was outside celebrating it. For us, meals that are outside are usually low-key and more focused on the enjoyment of a beautiful Michigan day and the good company of others. The food and drinks just need to be good and the rest can almost take care of itself. Uniting neighbors, or people of a community, is something I think is important for our world, and we’re just lucky that we found a team of people who believe in this philosophy to help create this space so that we all can come together! 

I also wanted to have some meals that were more accessible; as cooks we know how hard people work to make a living; some of us are lucky enough to work at restaurants that are closed on Sundays. We wanted an opportunity to reach out to those who always miss out on fun events because they always work through Fridays and Saturdays, and also for those who cannot spend a week’s worth of work on a meal. 

RG: How do you come up with your menus?

QL: It is a combination of knowing who our hosts/guests are at the event, or if it is a celebration of a holiday, or if it is a dish we are wanting to do. What makes us unique is that we are able to cater the menu to who is holding the event and at the same time keep it meaningful to us as cooks.

RG: In what ways has your culinary background led you to this point?

BW: Every step is us learning more and more about techniques, as well as exposure with more and more ingredients. As you cook more you learn more about what things you do and don’t want to cook.

RG: What has been one of your wildest culinary experiences to date?

QL: Everyday service tends to be packed with adrenaline and intensity, so much that we tend to normalize what would be crazy for anybody else. I used to work for a chef who always said cooks should write books. Every time something wacky happened he would just pause and say, 'That’s another chapter in the book!'"

One of the wildest things for me was this one time I was doing an apprenticeship at a bed and breakfast’s restaurant. They set me up with the smallest but cutest room on the top floor thinking I could be out of the way. During a dinner service a hotel guest arrived and asked to be staying in my room because she was fond of it, and even though a larger room was offered she still preferred mine. She was never told that someone had been living in it for the last few months and that it was still occupied. So we handed her a cocktail to buy some time, and I had to run up in the middle of cooking and clear all of my stuff, throw it in the next vacant room, help “turn” the bedroom for a new guest, and run downstairs back to the kitchen to continue cooking. The kitchen was run by only two cooks at the time, so it was quite a run! I knew that this was just [one] of many things we in the hospitality business do for our guests, and the fact that this didn’t bother me told me I could thrive in it.

BW: My meal at McCrady’s in Charleston, South Carolina was my most wild experience. It was the first time I had a fine dining experience, and I remember the food was simple but very well executed, which was inspiring and humbling at the same time.

RG: How do you attract business within such a niche market?

BW: Supper clubs and pop-ups are becoming more and more popular, so people may be on the lookout more for them. Social networking is our main method of getting out into the public, but also our network of friends has also easily gotten us able to reach out to any in Grand Rapids who are looking for this type of food!

Jenna K. Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.

Photos courtesy of Stock&Candor.