Nestled in the heart of Lincoln, a gentleman welcomes dinner guests into his very own backyard space for a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
The Portico owner and chef Kevin Shinn lost his wife in late 2019 after a long hospice season, battling sickness. Shifting from primary caregiver duties to full time widower, he recognized his need to start anew. He embarked on a three-month European adventure that was cut short due to the global pandemic. Shinn, with a history of restaurant assembly and management, came back to the States with a love of food creation reignited. Restaurants were closing and work opportunities dwindled, so he decided to work on renovating his home, specifically his back yard. He repainted his home’s exterior, built a fire pit, and expanded his yard’s seating area.
In May 2020, a couple Shinn knew from his restaurant days reached out to ask if he would make a meal for their 25th wedding anniversary. Shinn cooked them a five-course meal, paired it with two wines, boxed it up, and sent it over to their house. The couple paid handsomely for it. They posted pictures and the power of social media took over.
The very next day Shinn got a request for a similar exchange. Shinn replied, “I will do it on one condition. I will not box it and send it to your house. Would you feel safe and comfortable in my backyard?” The second guest said, “yes.”
Shinn asked many questions to understand what these guests were looking for and constructed a menu around their preferences. He came up with a serving plan, breaking the meal into different parts, and giving the group a memorable experience.
Word spread of The Portico establishment and from May through November 2020, Shinn hosted 38 dinner experiences, concluding the season when the weather was too cold to comfortably dine outside.
Booking requests for the next year continued to roll in, specifically from one pressing guest who encouraged Kevin to make this an “official business.”
By April 2021, Shinn was approved by the health department, obtained his liquor license, and was able to serve (what would become 71 groups) the following season.
Shinn provides culinary experiences that are highly specific to the preferences of his guests, keeping his groups small, typically around four to six people. The average group’s stay is four hours, giving guests the chance to slow down and truly connect with each other. Shinn prepares the atmosphere, shifting guests between the fire pit space to the seated courses in the covered portico area. He mixes and serves drinks, adjusts table arrangements between courses, educates on food origin, cooks the food, and presents the food himself. Mindful of food restrictions and aversions, the plates are the same for each guest. If one person is vegetarian, the whole group is vegetarian for the evening.
Every group’s menu is unique and it’s built according to the season. Shinn shops at a local farmers market and sources protein and large produce orders from local farmers.
The first portion of the experience is a “cocktail hour and three quarters.” Guests have an array of drink offerings and small bites of food. From there, Shinn moves them to the table beneath the portico. The following course is served family style. He brings out a loaf of bread and complements, then a trio or quartet of vegetables prepared to the season. The guests shift away from the table as Shinn clears it to reset for the final three plated dishes. He typically serves a pasta, a protein, then a dessert.
Shinn’s daughter lived with him during the business’s early season and helped him with serving as much as she could. Today, Shinn keeps his booking list condensed, for good reason. “It’s just me and it’s manageable.” His goal is to continue to operate The Portico six to seven months out of the year and then shift his attention to his writing. He recently completed a book of poetry that was released in December, much of which has helped him process his wife’s passing.
“I love cooking and writing,” Shinn said. “Moving into my midlife years as a widower I want to make sure I’m fully focused on what I’m good at and what I need to be doing.” He also plans to mentor chefs and budding entrepreneurs. “Everything I learned was on the job and on the fly. I can help give a good start or help them weather some initial challenges.”
Shinn looks forward to providing his guests a memorable experience in 2022 and continues to connect with readers through impactful writing projects.