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Building Community, One Meal at a Time 

The secret to making friends in Bend: Food. Lots of food.

The theme for Saturday Supper was the letter S, for Sue Sant who was celebrating her 75th birthday. - LISA SIPE
  • Lisa Sipe
  • The theme for Saturday Supper was the letter S, for Sue Sant who was celebrating her 75th birthday.

When Jesica and Rich Carleton moved to Bend from Alaska three years ago, they only knew one person in town. Carleton was on Facebook one day, where she found an article about a couple who started an open-invitation, casual dinner every week to connect with friends and family. They called it Friday Night Meatballs. Jesica shared the article with Rich, who remarked, "It could be interesting."

The Carletons' version of Friday Night Meatballs was dubbed Saturday Supper. The couple could seat 10 people at their family table, always including Jesica's brother, David Woods, and mom, Patricia Woods. The Carletons provide a simple meal, and guests can bring something—though it's not required. Jesica had business cards and postcards made, adding details such as a recommendation to RSVP the day before so they'd know how much food to make. She started inviting anyone she connected with—from people she met through a Meetup or in line at the grocery store.

In the beginning, the pair worried no one would show up. Some of the early dinners were just a few people, but fairly quickly the party grew as guests returned and invited friends or family. It wasn't long before the couple started adding tables, never wanting to turn anyone away. The largest Saturday Supper to date was 26 people. Luckily, the Carletons' house, charmingly named Carleton Manor, is made for entertaining. The midtown property was previously a bed and breakfast and a home for women in transition. The four-bedroom house sits on almost 1 acre, which includes a treehouse, greenhouse and an apartment where Jesica's mom lives.

click to enlarge Saturday Supper isn't always inside. In the summer and when the Carletons were remodeling their kitchen they moved the tables and guests outside. - JESICA CARLETON
  • Jesica Carleton
  • Saturday Supper isn't always inside. In the summer and when the Carletons were remodeling their kitchen they moved the tables and guests outside.

The main kitchen is a cook's dream, with the biggest island I've ever seen. At roughly 6 by 9 feet, it's the size of a nice laundry room, and includes a stovetop with six full-sized burners—a bit larger than what you find in an average home, and two refrigerators. The adjacent room is decorated in shades of ultra violet, the 2018 Pantone color of the year. It's large enough to connect three dining tables and still have room for a loveseat.

I attended Saturday Supper as the Carletons were celebrating its three-year anniversary. Every seat was full. The theme for the evening was the letter "S," in honor of the couple's friend Sue Sant, celebrating her 75th birthday. Coincidentally, Sant was that sole person the Carletons knew when they moved to Bend.

The dishes guests brought lined the center of the table and all had "S" names, including sesame chicken, sushi, salad, stew, spanakopita, squash soup, spicy slaw, spiraled ham and, the outlier, some cheesy bacon cornbread. I brought a bottle of wine, a Washington Syrah, to keep with the theme. It was the kind of feast reminiscent of a big holiday.

As food went around, guests talked about their excitement for the New Year and what they've been up to since the last supper. Deby DeWeese, sitting next to me, filled me in on some important info: "You never leave Saturday Supper hungry. Save room for dessert, I heard there are four tonight." As I bit into my delicious sesame chicken I appreciated the heads-up. I love dessert!

click to enlarge It's become a Saturday Supper ritual for everyone to get a cookie and read their fortune out loud and add "in bed" to the message. - LISA SIPE
  • Lisa Sipe
  • It's become a Saturday Supper ritual for everyone to get a cookie and read their fortune out loud and add "in bed" to the message.

The group also shared what Saturday Supper has meant to them. Carol Fox, who's been in Bend just a few years, said, "Coming to these dinners made me feel like I finally belonged in Bend." A lot of guests echoed that sense of community. Patricia Delozier said, "It's the best part of family." Abbey Kellner-Rodes said, "The feeling of community here makes me feel this is my forever home. Moving here and feeling like we're family is really special."

I could see what they meant. I didn't know anyone in the group and I still felt comfortable and welcome. Jesica added, "Saturday Suppers is the highlight of our time here."

If you plan on starting your own Friday Night Meatballs or Saturday Supper, Jesica Carleton has advice. First, keep meals simple. In the beginning she tried to get fancy and elaborate but it's easier and more sustainable when things are casual.

So what are you waiting for? Fill those extra chairs next time you dine at home.


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