Photo Credit: Unsplash (for representational purposes only)
In March 2022, Mehran Jalali, a 21-year-old AI startup founder, and his group of friends planned an "elaborate joke." They renamed the address of their four-bedroom accommodation on Google Maps to a fake restaurant called 'Mehran's Steak House.' The group mainly consisted of young people working in the tech industry. They managed to get other friends to write raving 'reviews' for their non-existent establishment. Little did they know that a year later, their prank would result in them actually offering people a dining experience.
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'Mehran's Steak House only existed as a Google listing, but that didn't mean it did not attract attention. The New York Times reported that Mehran and friends received a visit from a couple wanting to try the new steakhouse. This incident birthed the idea of creating a website with a waiting list. The site, which is still up, declares, "Reservations required. The steak house is fully booked for the next six months. Leave your telephone number below, and we will be in touch when tables are available." And over time, according to The Times, it managed to garner more than 900 'reservations'.
A food writer decided to investigate the steakhouse, which prompted Mehran and his friends to think about what they could do to keep up appearances. And, after this point, it no longer remained a farce. Although the group had moved out of the original address, they rented a different space for a one-night-only dining event. They also developed a multi-course menu and assembled around 60 friends to serve as members of the staff. As the website states, "60 friends created a restaurant for one night." Invites were sent to people on the waiting list. The Guardian reported that journalists from the New York Times, the New York Post and apparently This American Life were also invited to the event, which took place on September 23, 2023.
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According to ABC7NY, the theme of the pop-up's menu was "The Bovine Circle of Life," and it featured delicacies like mixed green salad, veal meatballs, bruschetta with mozzarella, ribeye with rosemary potatoes, and others. The group tried to keep up the ruse throughout the evening. Their efforts included staging a fake marriage proposal as well as getting servers to pour milk like it was wine. Ultimately, of course, they were found out and their 'restaurant' has since gone viral.
A few people have compared this prank to "the Shed at Dulwich," a similar 'fake restaurant' set up by Butler, a British writer in 2017. Butler had posted a listing for it on TripAdvisor, got acquaintances to write reviews and later set up a dining space in his own backyard as a hoax.