Lawrence Adjah had recently completed his master's degree at the University of Texas at Austin, and moved back to New York City to work as a management consultant for McKinsey & Co.
Adjah was born in Brooklyn, raised in New Jersey, and earned his undergraduate degree at Harvard University. So his network was deep.
His friendships, though, felt all too occasional.
"I was catching up with one friend who was doing extremely well professionally," he said. "When I asked her, 'How are things going?' she said, 'I feel alone. I feel depressed. All I do is work, and the only time I meet people is at networking events.'
"That was life in New York," Adjah told me. "People live on top of each other, but they feel alone. It's a painful irony."
So he organized a group dinner at a local restaurant with a couple dozen friends and spelled out two ground rules: No phones at the table, and no talking about work.
"We stayed until closing, and we said, 'Let's do it again in two months,'" he said. "We went from 30 people to 60 people to 200 people, and we met every month."
That was 2008. Today, those monthly dinners have a name — Our Family Dinner — and they take place in 30 cities around the world: San Francisco, Detroit, Dallas, Nashville, Tenn., Beijing, Toronto and Lagos, Nigeria, to name just a few.
On Saturday, the group will gather at STK Chicago in River North for fellowship and food without the pressure to network or scout potential mates.
The events are open to anyone, and there are still a handful of seats available for Saturday's event, Adjah said. (Tickets here.)
Lawrence Adjah is the founder of Our Family Dinner, which hosts community-based dinners for young professionals who live in cities and find themselves without much of a social life. (Lawrence Adjah)
"It gives you an unobtrusive way to connect with other people without feeling like you're too vulnerable," Adjah said.
The no-phones rule stands, and hosts encourage diners to dive into topics that don't involve work.
"We give people ice-breakers to get conversations going," he said. "Being successful at work isn't a bad thing, but it's a struggle when you don't have balance."
Adjah said the diners are a diverse lot: single, married, child-free, parents of young children, you name it.
"One of our basic needs as human beings is community," Adjah said. "We're not built to do life alone, physiologically or psychologically. We were built for relationships. We were built for community."
But life doesn't often leave time for community building.
"We're becoming more and more disconnected without even knowing it," Adjah said. "What would have been a meeting for lunch or a quick phone call in the past is now a text or an email. We're more transient. We connect digitally."
But dinner tables should be different. And Adjah is doing his part to make sure they are.