Diners gathered under one enormous ceiling of skylights at the Bistro 258 on a recent Friday night. The sun began to set, and golden twilight accentuated the colorful artwork and guitars hanging on the walls. The exposed brickwork of the old building on Ogden’s Historic 25th Street added a certain ambience as laughter, familiarity and the clanking of silverware filled the space.
It was the 100th gathering of the Ogden Dining Out Group, a social circle open to area adults that was started 5 1/2 years ago.
The group has no set agenda or mission — other than to bring people together for good food and great conversation.
Lisa Usher, of Farr West, one of the earliest members of the group and the current organizer, said she and her husband, John Usher, found the group shortly after moving to Utah from Southern California.
The group has roughly 200 members, and 15 to 30 typically attend a given event. Twice each month, they meet for breakfast, lunch or dinner at a local dining establishment.
“Local restaurants are our first priority,” Usher said. She tries to create variety among genres, although sometimes she purposely schedules three or four meals in a row with the same cuisine for the group to compare and vote on their favorite.
They recently created a new website, www.meetup.com/OgdenDiningOut/, where the group reviews their dining experiences. “With so many people, you get a good feel for the food because we are sampling a large chunk of the menu,” Usher said.
The group targets singles and couples over the age of 30, with current members ranging in age from 24 to 79. It is not intended to be a dating service; however, some relationships have formed out of the frequent meetings.
Some of Usher’s favorite dining experiences include Bistro 258, Union Grill, Moon Dog’s Café and Bombay Bites.
“There are too many to list,” she said of the positive restaurant memories. She also said that buffets are surprisingly refreshing to the group, since no one feels rushed and they can converse casually.
When Usher was new in town, she discovered the group while looking for ways to make new friends. The first time she attended, she said she felt awkward going in, but found the group to be very welcoming.
“We had a good time and I kept going back,” she said. Soon, she was assisting in the planning and in 2009 she took over as organizer.
One of her biggest priorities is making sure everyone feels welcome. There are members of the group on the lookout for newcomers with a mission to help them feel comfortable.
“No matter where you sit, people are engaged in conversation,” Usher noted. And, that certainly seemed to be the case at their most recent gathering.
When asked if the group was primarily for extroverted personalities, Usher replied, “We make extroverts out of introverts” — implying that the group is for everyone and anyone can have a good time.
John Usher said he has developed long-lasting relationships from his affiliation with the group. “The people we meet make it a fun experience,” he said.
Husband and wife Larry and Natalie Quinn of South Ogden said they moved to Utah from Southern California two years ago and sought out the group to make new friends. Some of their favorite restaurants have been Zucca Trattoria, Bella’s Fresh Mexican Grill and MacCool’s.
Even when they go to a restaurant that doesn’t make it on their list of favorites, the Quinns enjoy being with friends. “The food may not always be good, but the company is always great,” Natalie Quinn said.
They recently threw a party in their home and, while making the guest list, realized that nearly all of their closest friendships had been made through the dining-out group.
Doug Dickamore, of Ogden, is somewhat of a newcomer to the group. The 100th gathering was his 15th time in attendance. He said he has enjoyed meeting new people as well. “I love to mingle with people. It’s fun,” he said.
Rhonda Kitchen of South Ogden said she has a friend in another state who is a member of a similar dining-out group. Her friend spoke so highly of his experiences that when Kitchen moved to Utah from North Carolina six years ago, she decided to look around and see what she could find.
Not only did she join the Ogden Dining Out Group, she also became a member of a hiking group, book clubs and a group of culture seekers who attend cultural events together.
With lots of people in the area being born and raised here, Kitchen said, it is sometimes difficult for someone new to make friends. That’s especially true for people who are single or who have already raised their families, she said.
“A lot of people are so busy with raising their children, they don’t have a lot of extra time to meet new people,” she explained. That’s why she has found membership in these groups to be so valuable.
Kitchen enjoys trying new local eateries in a relaxed atmosphere with a large group of people. “We talk about fun things. It’s not serious,” she said.
“Most people walk away with their eyes watering from laughing so hard because they have that much fun,” Usher added.
To find out more or to join them for their next gathering, visit the website at www.meetup.com/OgdenDiningOut/. Or contact Lisa Usher at 801-458-6617 for more information.