Best part of creating is being able to take pride in your work and say “I made that”. Being able to express what you like, what you believe and what you do is so rewarding.
Ivan Jacobo + 319 Hidden Kitchen
Creator: Ivan Jacobo
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Words of Wisdom:
You’re only going to get as much as you put into it. Meaning you’re only going to get better if you keep practicing and working on your techniques. If you don’t go into it wanting to learn and get better you’re not going to go anywhere.
You want to witness a miracle? Watch people do what they love and see how that impacts everyone around them. From their hard working team members, to their customers, loyal advocates and even charitable organizations.
At first glance, Ivan Jacobo looks like a young, rising talented chef, purely building on a brilliant concept. What many don’t see, is the fact that he’s operating from a place that he’s already won.
To come from where I've come from and to be doing this type of work is a blessing. Being able to do this is a blessing. How could I not help out other people? How could I not give back more and more? - Ivan Jacobo
I often see so many talented people be hard on themselves throughout their journey because they aren’t celebrating the fact that they’ve already won simply by doing what they love. They get hard on themselves thinking they need to be bigger, more prominent and wealthy beyond their means in order to be happy.
This impressionable 27 year-old behaves like a veteran in mind, spirit, experience and talent, and the growing popularity that is 319 Hidden Kitchen, a community style dinner that brings complete strangers together in efforts to make new friends, conversations and connections while having a unique dining experience, is proof of it.
After diving head first into culinary school back in 2009, Ivan has successfully maneuvered 9 years of his journey, which included a launching point at the renowned Bohemian Club in San Francisco, a stint with Tempo Urban Bistro and his first attempt at a food truck, only to make his way into a very niche concept that not only brings back generations of traditional family style dining, but brings together local artisans, food purveyors and charities alike.
When I first heard Ivan’s story, I could feel both is resilience for building on a dream and his sense of urgency to be a bigger person in this world that gives back to so many others.
For him, 319 Hidden Kitchen isn’t a catchy restaurant theme trying to compete with a slew of other catchy restaurant themes to sell to the highest bidder. It’s a means to bringing together community, raising awareness and giving back to humanity. And this is why he’s already won.
319 Hidden Kitchen
Hidden Kitchen became a concept after filling a void I needed. I’m the kind of person who is shy and wont introduce myself to strangers. Food is the perfect icebreaker to start a conversation. I fell in love with the idea of bringing strangers together over a meal. The question I kept asking myself when I came up with the concept was “what would I want to do if I had no plans Friday night”.
I signed up for one of his dinners, an experience worth way more than the $65 price tag, and from the moment I walked in, I knew the man had struck gold with his idea. Three of us took the remaining seats in the middle of the table of complete strangers, only to leave that night with a few extra friends.
Oh, and the food was on point. Even things I didn’t know I would like, tasted unbelievable.
Hidden Kitchen is so much more than just “food”. It’s the ice breaker to bring the community together. From the chefs and guests to the local food vendors. By sitting guests together in a community table all at the same time is really fun as nobody knows each other in the beginning but thought the dinner they slowly become friends. Food is the perfect ice breaker to say hi or start a conversation so we purposely introduce sharable courses where you’re kind of forced to talk to one another.
I caught up with Ivan several times as he talked about his decision to become a chef over a mechanic, not coming from a traditional cooking background, building a food truck concept, making mistakes along the way, surrounding himself with good people, giving back to the community because that’s what this is truly all about, and so much more.
Here’s what he had to say:
Ivan Jacobo | Chef + Entrepreneur + Experience Driven + Creator
HDF: Ivan!! You’re experience, background and concepts are next level!
So, before we get into it, can we start by diving in a little bit more about where you’re originally from and where you’re living now?
Ivan: I was born in Morelia Mexico. My dad brought us to the US when I was 2 years old. My parents raised my brothers and sisters in Avondale AZ. My parents spent all their savings to move and give us a chance for a better life
Growing up my parents never had excess money to spend on a trip or other things kids might want. I remember the first time I ever ate at a sit-down restaurant was for my high school graduation. Everyone has their own perspective on what a good childhood is, but I wouldn’t change anything about mine.
HDF: Which is probably why you have such a hard work ethic?
Ivan: Yeah, I love everything about growing up as child, I strongly believe that growing up the way I did was what made me the person I am today. Seeing my dad work 7 days a week to give us everything we needed, is the main reason I work so hard
HDF: He probably also taught you resilience in that manner.
So, I first learned about your concept from both powerhouse PR, Nicole Myden, and then more in depth from rising star jewelry designer Oleg Gold, but tell me a little bit more about your backstory and what you were doing before Hidden Kitchen?
Ivan: So, I started culinary school in 2009 at Estrella Mountain Community College. I dropped out, as the country club I was working part time at, offered me a full-time job.
During that time, I needed the money and I chose work over school, which now I regret, as I would have loved to finish. However, I am very lucky to have had the people around me who influenced me in my career.
The culinary director from EMCC Steven Griffiths would always sign me up to do charity events, demos, literally everything dealing with food. One day he contacted me saying he got me a job at one of the most exclusive clubs in San Francisco.
San Francisco | Photo by @timberfoster
I decided to jump on that and moved to California, I worked there for almost two years for some of the wealthiest people in the US. One of the places I worked at in San Francisco was The Bohemian Club.
Working there alone was an experience! We would have to take a van that had all the windows blacked out and go through 3 security checkpoints just to get in the kitchen.
I moved back to AZ to help one of my mentors, Chef Steve Maynard, to open his first restaurant Tempo Urban Bistro in the West valley. That was the first restaurant where I had my first big role at 20.
I am proud to say I was the Sous Chef there and in the year I was there, not one kitchen staff quit or got let go. Working from 7am to 11pm 7 days a week for 6 months straight at 20 really got annoying quick. While all my friends were out having fun, I was working long hours at the restaurant.
After 6 months, I started getting Wednesdays off. After a year, I got burnt out and decided to part ways with the restaurant.
HDF: I can imagine the burn out was real! Did you take any time off?
Ivan: I took a break from cooking but I missed being able to be creative in the kitchen, so I decided to open a food truck called 319 The Truck.
319 the Truck
That’s when I got my first taste of getting punched in the stomach. I literally opened the truck with all the money I had saved from my sous chef salary. So, I Had to make money the first day we opened or I would have been in the negatives from the beginning. Luckily my family and friends showed love and supported us from the beginning.
The food truck game was so inconsistent. Some days you would make $100 in sales the whole day, and then you had days where we’d make $1000+ in a few hours. The first time I made $1000+ in one night was also the same night my tire blew on the freeway, the day someone decided to throw a rock at us and break our serving window, and to top it off, we also had our generator stolen.
I can defiantly say the most fun I ever had cooking was working the food truck, but unfortunately the truck was involved in a car accident where we got rear ended by a Sparkletts Water Company. That case took nearly two years to settle, and by that time I was in debt, so I was back to square one.
319 the Truck Accident
HDF: Sometimes it happens that way. We figure out what works and what doesn’t, only to end up starting from the beginning again. So, what did you decide to do then?
Ivan: One of my friends Lucy Lamont reached out saying she was looking for a chef to cook for an event where they auction every seat to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
After doing the dinner I fell in love with the idea of sitting complete strangers together and having them enjoy a meal together for a greater cause.
“That dinner would remain implanted in the back of my mind for the longest time.”
I took a job as a kitchen manager and opened a 11-million-dollar steak house in North Scottsdale. During that time, I was doing pop-up dinners where I invited strangers to come and eat at random locations.
319 Hidden Kitchen | Pop Up Style Dinner
HDF: Which I got to experience now firsthand. So, then what happened?
Ivan: Working at the steak house I met Chef Paul who led me to quit working at the steak house and pursue my dreams. Losing all my money at the food truck case, I realized I had to do something to make some money and make it happen fast.
I started working two jobs to be able to make extra cash to make it happen. I literally worked from 6am to 6pm Monday-Wednesday then worked at my second job from 6pm to 12midnight. Thursday, I would work from 6 am to 6pm then go prep. Friday I would be off at 6pm from the morning job then had a one hour break before dinner service at 7:30 for the pop us. My only time off was literally Sundays.
HDF: That’s serious hustle brother! So, your dinners became a hit pretty fast?
Ivan: Dinners got so popular that we started selling out within a few hours. I remember the fastest we ever sold out was 8minutes!
During that time one of our competitors decided to join our mailing list, we made the mistake of not sending the email as a BCC and he decided it would be ok to use our email list for their own event.
Within 15 minutes we had guests emailing us they wanted to be removed from our email list. That really hurt me as we lost over 10% of our mailing list. And we never looked at them as customers more of a family of foodies. That was a big blow for me which led me to stop doing dinners for over a year.
During that time, Oleg had kept emailing me about when the next dinner was. After about 4 months I decided “fuck It” let’s make it happen and as a team we decided to pursue on the dream.
319 Hidden Kitchen | @319hiddenkitchen
319 Hidden Kitchen | @319hiddenkitchen
319 Hidden Kitchen | @319hiddenkitchen
We started doing pop-ups once again and it slowly developed into a full-service catering company focusing on bringing people together, one meal at a time. With all the hard work and not giving up despite of all the ups and downs, our pop-up supper clubs sell out again within a few hours. And we are currently getting booked more and more for caterings.
HDF: I’m not surprised. What you’re doing is next level! So why cooking? I’m sure it was always there, even if it was hidden, but how did it really work its way into your life and become a very big and sustaining part of it?
Ivan: I started culinary school in 2009 but got my first professional job cooking on March 19th, 2011.
If I told you a story of me starting to cook because of my mom, or my grandmas cooking. I would be lying to you. I was raised in a super traditional Mexican family, meaning we all ate dinner together. And my mom made fresh food and tortillas from scratch every night.
So, I had no reason to learn how to cook when I was getting fed so well. Senior year in high school I started watching Food Network and thought to myself that looks so cool. I’m a huge gear head and wanted to go to automotive school. Senior year I asked girls in my graduating class who would they rather date, a chef or a mechanic. Not one said a mechanic and I enrolled in culinary school.
Ivan Jacobo | 319 Hidden Kitchen
HDF: Not a bad reason (laughter).
Was there one of those “aha” moments in your life where you knew at some point this is what you’re going to do with your life?
Ivan: I cooked several major meals for high profile clients from the beginning because of the restaurants I worked at. But to tell you the truth none of them really stuck to me as in “oh snap, I can’t believe I’m cooking for them” moment. If I were to tell you a story of a meal I am most proud of would also be one of my favorite days in my career.
HDF: Yeah, tell me that.
Ivan: While I was working at Tempo Urban Bistro, there was a family that would come and eat every other week. Their daughter was allergic to pretty much everything and they couldn’t go out to eat at most restaurants because of her allergy and diet restrictions.
I would always cook their food as they were some of the nicest people I’ve met. She could never have dessert anywhere as she couldn’t have any refined sugar, dairy, gluten, artificial colors and several other stuff.
One day I went into work and her parents asked for me personally. They asked if I could make her dessert for her birthday Friday night. She asked specifically for me to make it as she said I made her want to be a chef.
Hearing that from an 8-year-old only made it that much more special. After she had dinner, I invited her to the kitchen to help me assemble her dessert and just seeing her face light up eating the dessert was worth all the hard work and long hours.
HDF: That’s incredible! To see the impact our work has on other people takes creating to a whole new level.
So let’s talk about 319 Hidden Kitchen as a brand. How did 319 Hidden Kitchen become a concept? What is the significance of 319?
319 Hidden Kitchen Guests’ Table
Ivan: I always treated the concept as a professional restaurant, as I’m supper optimistic and you never know what will happen. So, it was an easy transition from hobby to legit business.
Hidden Kitchen became a concept after filling a void I needed. I’m the kind of person who is shy and wont introduce myself to strangers. Food is the perfect icebreaker to start a conversation. I fell in love with the idea of bringing strangers together over a meal. The question I kept asking myself when I came up with the concept was “what would I want to do if I had no plans Friday night?
HDF: That’s true cause people are always looking for a new experience on Friday nights! And bringing strangers together forms a new bond that can lead to all kinds of other opportunities.
Ivan: And Hidden Kitchen is so much more than just “food”. It’s the ice breaker to bring the community together. From the chefs, to the guests and the food vendors.
By sitting guests together in a community table all at the same time is really fun because nobody knows each other in the beginning but throughout the dinner they slowly become friends.
Food is the perfect ice breaker to say hi or start a conversation so we purposely introduce sharable courses where you’re kind of forced to talk to one another.
For example, we start all our dinners with bread and butter. We place a plate with a butter rose and some fresh bread but only one knife and place it in the center. So now you will have to say hi in order to dig in.
319 Hidden Kitchen | Rose Butter
Strangers coming together for a meal | 319 Hidden Kitchen
The diners never know what they will eat that day. When you sign up for our email list, we ask you for any allergies. By doing so we can work with local vendors and incorporate as many ingredients as we can. So it gives us the opportunity to talk and tell our guests exactly where there food comes from.
This also allows us to really get to know our food vendors and become almost like family as we get to know them well from working with them so closely.
But the coolest thing I think is the fact that guests really become more of a family then just “guests”. Chefs are painted in a picture of non-approachable due to TV shows portraying them as rude people.
At our supper clubs, we don’t have any servers, so you’re literally being served by the same chefs that cook your food. This allows us to talk and communicate with the guests. We take it one step further where the staff take note of everything they hear. For example, if a guest mentions to us they have kids, their names, closing a big business deal, we write that down on sticky notes then add those notes to our database.
So, next time they book we look at the notes and we refresh our minds. We also take note of every menu they had when they dined with us. This allows us to make sure they never have the same menu item twice
Ivan Jacobo cooking
HDF: Not only is that seriously awesome brother that you pay that close attention, but the fact that you care that much for your customers is next level. So, I got to experience hidden kitchen first hand and the food is unbelievably good.
How do you decide what you’re going to cook?
Ivan: So, the way we pick out the menu for the day falls on many things. Once we are completely sold out we look for any food allergies.
Then, once we have compiled a list of allergies, we look for any past dinners. We look at the menus they had and make sure we never serve them the same thing twice. And finally, we talk to our vendors and find out what’s in season. After that the menu development process begins.
Luis Castelan & Ivan Jacobo preparing their guests meals
As far as locations go, we honestly chose them where ever we think might be a cool and unique dining experience. If we find an Airbnb with a really cool back yard will host it there. If we find a cool park, will host it there.
Sometimes we partner up with other companies for a special dinner. Last dinner we did a dinner at a clothing boutique. We called it wine and dined by Hidden Kitchen.
We had a group of 20 girls dine in the middle of the store. They enjoyed a 5-course tasting menu, we gave them flowers and chocolate covered strawberries at the end. The store gave them 50%off the store that day. So, they literally had the best day of their lives. Food wine and shopping, can it get any better? (laughter)
319 Hidden Kitchen
HDF: And we know they’ll be back for more too (laughter).
I see people often come back more than once? Earlier you mentioned that you’re pretty detailed on their experiences. In fact, the first time we met you mentioned you pay attention to everything they do so you can provide a different and more improved experience the next time
Ivan: So, our guests never know what they will be having for dinner until that day. We ask for any allergies when they sign up for our mailing list, and once the tickets to the event are sold out, we look at any allergies in the party and we create a menu around everyone’s allergies.
We train our service to pay close attention to everything from the wine they bring to dinner to anything that doesn’t get eaten on the plate. Our diners are BYOB but for our regulars we might keep a bottle in stock at all times in case one day they’re running late and they forget to pick one up.
319 Hidden Ktichen
Other occasions a guest might not have a mushroom allergy so they don’t tell us about it. If we notice you leave the mushrooms on the plate every time we serve them, we will stop serving you mushrooms.
We also ask for 1 Social Media handle as we like to look for info on the guest like birthday, anniversary or even an upcoming graduation. If they book a seat during any of those dates will do something special for them without knowing.
HDF: Good to know come next April (laughter).
If you had to describe your style of cooking or approach, how would you?
Ivan Jacobo in the kitchen
Ivan: I don’t think I have discovered my own cooking style yet. I honestly cook whatever I want or I’m craving that day. So many chefs stick with just one thing French, Asian, Mexican.
My thing is that my team’s background is from all over the world, so why should we stick to one kind when there’s so many good food out there?
From left to right | Nathan White + Rose Kauffman + Chauncy Thompson + Ivan Jacobo
My favorite food to cook are the ones that take you back in time with a bite. No better compliment then when a guest tells me that reminded them of when they were kids.
Dessert at 319 Hidden Kitchen
HDF: I like that openness to creating what feels right the day of. I find that creating on the fly like that allows us to use all of our senses and general intuition, not to mention past diners’ experiences.
Now, I’ve experienced a dinner first hand, but I want to hear it from you. What are some of the things you’ve seen happen from connecting strangers at a unique dining experience?
Ivan: The connections that are made there are truly remarkable. Food is the perfect ice breaker to get a conversation started. Since we price our supper-clubs at a price point that anyone can come and enjoy them, the age group at the community table is everywhere from 21 year olds to happily retired individuals.
Diners coming together at 319 Hidden Kitchen
One of the story’s that comes to mind would be an occasion where 2 21year olds decided to dine with us on their first date. The gentleman was going to ASU for Graphic Design at the time. The people seating next to them were successful business owners of a huge clothing company. They kicked it off and had a great dinner.
The following month the gentleman book seats again but now with his girlfriend that had dinner with him that day, and started working for the clothing company a week after the dinner.
HDF: That’s amazing brother! I feel like that’s how it should be when you bring good people together for an experience; the possibilities become limitless.
What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your industry?
Ivan: I think the biggest obstacle is being taken seriously in the industry. Being so young and pursuing your own thing in an industry where most of it top players are twice as old as you, is very difficult.
HDF: I can understand that. Especially if they had to earn their way differently and through older ways of doing things. Suddenly, there’s this really good young “kid” doing exceptional things and it scares them. I think that’s a generational thing too.
Ivan: Yeah, and I’m a firm believer that one of the most important parts of building you name is keeping a good reputation. If you can’t or you don’t feel comfortable doing a customer’s request don’t do it.
It only takes one good review to blow up in the industry but it also takes one bad one to end it all.
From Left to Right | Luis Castelan + Ivan Jacobo + Nathan White
HDF: Well said! What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in building this brand and/or company
Ivan: The two biggest lessons I’ve learned are don’t give up and you can’t do it on your own.
Don’t give up is straight forward; just man up and handle life with no excuses. No matter how you look at it, you can’t do it on your own. I always give credit to the staff after every dinner. As I may be the face of Hidden Kitchen but the team behind me are the ones that make it happen.
HDF: Couldn’t agree more. Creativity and building anything takes work and a whole lot of resilience. Most importantly, it’s never done alone.
Okay, so name 3 to 5 of your top favorite chefs?
Ivan: 1.) Thomas Keller from the French Laundry, 2.) Dominique Crenn from Atelier Crenn, 3.) Enrique Olvera from Pujol
HDF: Boom! That’s a healthy list! So, What surprising opportunities or projects came from building 319 Hidden Kitchen that you would never had seen coming?
Ivan: Partnerships! The amount of partnerships have been a true blessing. Everything from being invited to do events as charity events and fundraisers. We are currently in the works of opening a food truck with our partners that we met at one of our dinners.
Love I Am Charity Dinner | (From Left to Right) Kathy Pham + Briana Gaitan + Paul Norris + Daradee Olson + Ivan Jacobo + Preon Evans
Movie Shoot Catering | (From Left to Right) Nathan White + Larry Fitzgerald + Ivan Jacobo
“Girls Night” Themed Dinner | (From Left to Right) Jessica Carlson + Rebecca Cho + Ivan Jacobo + Cami Beck + Stephanie Ferrer
HDF: That’s awesome!! So follow up to that, where are some of the best places your cooking has taken you to?
Ivan: Cooking has taken me to so many different places. Everywhere from different states to extravagant 20 million dollar homes.
HDF: And you’re only getting started! How important has social media and the Internet played in the building of 319 Hidden Kitchen? Or at least, how important do you think it will be as you continue to grow it?
Ivan: Social Media plays a HUGE role in what we do. We don’t advertise anywhere or even do culinary events. To this day, most of our guests find us on Instagram or are referred to us by past guests.
I strongly believe social media will keep playing a big role on everything Hidden Kitchen does.
319 Hidden Kitchen on Instagram
HDF: Ivan, you are a serious creator – with cooking, your kitchen and in business. What’s the best part about “creating” for you?
Ivan: Best part of creating is being able to take pride in your work and say “I made that”. Being able to express what you like, what you believe and what you do is so rewarding.
HDF: It’s very rewarding! I feel like the moment you can take a step back and look at all that you created and see something that wasn’t there before now have life, is truly what it’s all about so thank you for sharing that.
What’s the best advice you can give someone just starting out in becoming a chef or in the food industry?
Ivan: The best piece of advice I can give someone going into the food industry is this. You’re only going to get as much as you put into it. Meaning you’re only going to get better if you keep practicing and working on your techniques. If you don’t go into it wanting to learn and get better you’re not going to go anywhere.
One of the things I’ve just learned myself is getting into the mentality of not giving a Fu** on what people think of my dream. You only need one person to believe in your dream to make it work, and that person is yourself!
HDF: Truth brother! The only person you need to impress is yourself, period, end of story.
Ivan Jacobo | 319 Hidden Kitchen
HDF: If you could describe the essence of your brand how would you describe it?
Ivan: The essence of the brand is just painting the picture of bringing people together one meal at a time. As I strongly believe food is the perfect ice breaker.
We live in a time where people are falling in love by swiping right and liking a bunch of pictures hoping we get to meet them in person one day.
Let’s not forget to say hi as you never know what you have in common with someone until you take that step. We might be a full-service catering company, so food will always play a part of what we do, but what I really want to do is bring people together from dinners, to the chefs and the community.
HDF: Yes! With today’s society moving so fast in making new connections, often lacking any substance behind it, there needs to be a return to more traditional ways of connecting, like sitting down and simply having a meal together.
Ivan, this has been awesome brother! I’m already booking my next meal with you. Anything else you want our readers to know?
Ivan: Yes, I believe it’s important to give credit where credit’s due. You won’t make it happen on your own, you always need the help.
I’m lucky enough to have friends that are willing to drop whatever they are doing to come help me out. I introduce my whole staff to the guests at the end of the dinners as I will be the first to tell you. I may be the face of Hidden Kitchen, but the people behind me are the ones that truly make it happen.
HDF: Well said! Growth in personal and in business is a group effort and we’re grateful for the ones who support. Ivan! Thank you for doing this interview! Keep doing what you’re doing, as I can tell it’s only the beginning for more good things to come.
Ivan Jacobo | 319 Hidden Kitchen