This Secret California Coastal Lunch Club Only Has 14 Seats

I’m sitting at a table in the middle of an olive grove in Goleta, a town near Santa Barbara on California’s central coast, surrounded by 11 strangers. We are wrapped in scarves and blankets to ward off the early spring chill, but the olive trees are already in bloom. Every time the wind blows, a cascade of tiny white flowers rain down on the table.

We are here for lunch, but we are also here to have a very difficult conversation. Today we are going to talk about our deepest fears.

To suit the olive grove, Jane Chapman serves a lunch of salad niçoise (since niçoise olives are the star of this particular meal), accompanied by watermelon radish, new potatoes, tomatoes, red butter lettuce and hard-boiled eggs from Chapman. chickens.

She gathered us all here for a Communal table event, which is a series of lunchtime chats that Chapman launched during the pandemic to try to connect people in a time of division. As we dig, she starts talking.

“I’m not a mental health professional, and this is not therapy,” Chapman says, “nor is that the intention. The goal is to share our unique story and experiences unique.

Jane Chapman started the Common Table as a way to connect with strangers and have meaningful conversations.

Picture Welsh

We all signed up for this luncheon knowing that we would have an open conversation about fear in our lives, but also knowing that we were intentionally choosing to cultivate a safe space for everyone to be heard. I don’t know these women and I’m not sure I’ll ever see them again. But I know I’m here to share and listen.

Chapman launched the Communal Table in August 2020, at a time when most of us were stuck in our homes and even more disconnected from a sense of real community than we were before. The first events happened in public parks, with people sitting on blankets six feet apart. Not all events deal with such heavy topics, but many do. Chapman has given lunchtime lectures on creativity and leadership, but also on impostor syndrome, grief, psychological flexibility and finding personal connection in divided time.


“I wanted to bring back the art of conversation,” Chapman explains. “There was just so much polarization already happening, and then COVID exacerbated it.”

“I looked at ways I could help and serve in this way, and it really came down to communication, having conversations about food,” she says. Chapman grew up in a culinary family. Her parents were the chefs/owners of the Montecito Cafe – a favorite of Julia Child, of which Chapman has fond childhood memories – and they now own Jane’s restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara. “We grew up having these solid dinner conversations with people who were different and had different ideas, and then, you know, we did it again the next week,” she said.

Chapman made salads for lunch with eggs from his own chickens.

Chapman made salads for lunch with eggs from his own chickens.

Julie Tremaine

“We used to have a family meal before every shift [at Jane],” she says. “That magic happens when people eat. They become more open and want to share and want to talk. I felt like that was my way of helping. I want people to feel bad.” comfortable and have conversations with people who are different from them.

“We’re not trying to change anyone’s mind,” she adds. “It’s just a place to share your voice and be heard, with no expectations of the outcome. I think our world would be a better place if we had these kinds of conversations. I just don’t think a topic is off limits, that a person doesn’t deserve to talk about it.

Each lunch is limited to 14 people, including Chapman. Some events are for women only, some are not. Tickets can cost over $100 each. But those sorts of awards tend to appeal to people of a certain age and level of financial stability – and if you’re only talking to people in very similar circumstances, you won’t learn much. .

“At each event,” she says, “there are usually between two and four people that I have sponsored. If the cost is prohibitive, people can still come. Chapman has a list of people who have applied for a sponsored slot and takes a few each time, which always remains anonymous. These seats are part of what the higher cost of the ticket covers. “I don’t want anyone to know who they are,” she explains.

The event brought together 12 women who, for the most part, did not know each other before lunch.

The event brought together 12 women who, for the most part, did not know each other before lunch.

Julie Tremaine

The events tend to attract locals, but have been attended by people from across the country and as far away as England. In my case, I drove a few hours on the 101, passed crop fields in Oxnard and surfers in Ventura, only to climb up a mountain in Goleta and find myself staring at the olive trees toward the ocean. I talked about my biggest fears, sharing all the ways I question my decisions in life and how scared I am of regretting them later, after there’s no going back. back.

I may have described this as a tough conversation, but in truth, the tough part was showing up. Once I make the decision to participate in a conversation on a difficult topic, and once I sit down at this table full of strangers, it’s easy to open up and share things I don’t. don’t speak normally.

“I wanted to talk about the fear in this beautiful grove,” Chapman says. “There is a sense of security in the conversation.”

It seems to be the same for all of us. Throughout the two hours, many people express how rare it is for them to be able to have a conversation unsupervised and without fear of judgment. Some women cry, some don’t, but we all showed up with our bravest and most vulnerable selves.

“I can’t even remember the last time I was with so many adults at once,” one said.

Lunch at the private olive grove overlooking the ocean.

Lunch at the private olive grove overlooking the ocean.

Julie Tremaine

For some, the motivation is to be able to share, but for others, they are simply looking to connect with new people. “I don’t know if it came from the common table or if it was because it was at this unique time in our history,” Chapman says, “but I’ve heard over and over again that people want new friendships They want people they can go deeper with and have conversations about things that matter.

She heard stories of women later hooking up and forming new friendships after meeting at joint table events. “I don’t know what seeds are sown,” she explains. “It thrills me to think of the trickle down effect of these conversations.”

“I want to make those connections for people so that when they’re in town and they see someone they might never have looked at, they’ve already had this amazing conversation with” , she said, “so they share. They are changing our city in this way.

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