A Potluck Club Grows in Crystal City

Lisa Curtin wanted to widen her circle of friends in Arlington. So she invited some strangers to dinner.

Potluck club founder Lisa Curtin. Photo by Michael Ventura

It was 9:30 on a cold Saturday night in November of 2015, and Lisa Curtin was lonely.

She’d recently left her extended family behind in Chicago, when her management job at Brightspark Travel, a student travel company, moved to Arlington. Now, for the fourth weekend in a row, the single 50-something found herself sitting in her living room, eating dinner with just the TV for company.

“I thought, ‘This is crazy,’ ” Curtin remembers. “ ‘There have to be other people in this building who feel the same way I do.’ ”

The building was Crystal House apartments on South Eads Street in Crystal City, and Curtin had noticed that the complex had an intranet site where any resident could post an ad. She quickly wrote up a short notice: Would anyone be interested in forming a potluck club and eating dinner together?

“Within 30 minutes,” she recalls, “I had about 15 people who immediately responded. So then I knew I had something, that there was a need.”

The first potluck club gathering. Photo courtesy of Lisa Curtin

Two Saturdays later, Curtin’s apartment was buzzing as a dozen of her neighbors chatted over salad, pasta and brownies. With Manal from Syria, Ahmed from Saudi Arabia and Justin from Montana sitting around the table, “It was like a mini-United Nations,” she says, “all different races and ages, so that was very cool.” The guests compared notes on their hometowns and kicked around ideas for places they could go together.

More potlucks followed, and the extroverted Curtin began scouting for new recruits in her building. She was helping herself to free coffee in the lobby on a February morning when she bumped into Paul Bauman, who works in software sales. He’d just moved to Crystal House from Sterling, Virginia, in order to be closer to the city.

“I’m single, never married, no kids,” says Bauman, who is in his mid-40s. “Out in the suburbs it was just impossible [to meet people].” His old friends were spread out from Purcellville to the Maryland suburbs, he says, and they lived so far away, “I had to make appointments to see them.”

Curtin told him about her group’s next get-together to eat pizza and watch a basketball game in the lounge.

“You’re always a little bit nervous about going to something where you’re like, ‘I don’t know anybody, am I going to be the odd man out?’ ” Bauman remembers. But Curtin’s friendly attitude won him over and he decided to go.

Around the same time, Janet Healey was planning her own move to Crystal House from Fort Knox, Kentucky, to serve as operations officer for the Armed Services Blood Bank Center. “I was a little concerned moving here, not knowing a single soul,” she says. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do if I ever need something, if I’m sick, or I just need to talk to somebody?’ ”

Two weeks after she arrived, Healey saw an intranet post about the next potluck club event and decided she should try to meet her neighbors. “Of course, when the day rolled around I was dead tired,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘I’ll just stay five minutes, and if it’s boring, I’ll leave.’ ” She stayed for two hours.

Categories: Food & Drink