Gathering of Friends: An End-of-Summer Dinner Party Tradition

Sandy Kipp’s craftsmanship shines through at her annual dinner party on Cleveland Street
by Addie Ladner / photography by Taylor McDonald

“I am not a table maker,” says Sandy Kipp. “I just did them with a circular saw and a drill and screwed them together.” Her humble attitude belies the obvious craft: six silky-smooth dinner tables and matching benches, made from tulip poplar from Capital City Lumber, are arranged along the lush lawn on the side of the home she shares with her fiancé, Roy Attride. They’re long and narrow, 7 feet long by 30 inches deep, and meant to inspire comradery. “I wanted people to be close and a little squished in. I had visions of strangers having these great conversations into the night,” she says. 

A writer for Lenovo by day, on nights and weekends Kipp is a maker of all sorts: she can often be found recovering furniture or cooking for friends. One time she even tried to figure out how to turn her home oven into a kiln for homemade bread warmers. 

And that vision of moonlight conversations has become reality: these handmade tables are the anchor of Dinner in the Garden, an annual tradition that brings her love of craft and cooking together into one idyllic evening. Once a year since 2017, she and Attride have lined up these six tables under a canopy of globe lights in their garden. Tucked into the far end of the Glenwood-Brooklyn Historic District, the tree-lined garden feels remote, despite the glimpses of downtown Raleigh’s skyline. “I remember seeing this yard for the first time and thinking, We have to host a dinner party here,” says Kipp. 

The first Dinner in the Garden was a sit-down, four-course, family-style supper for about 20 friends and neighbors. It’s grown, little by little, each year since — new friends have joined, she added a charitable element (guests are encouraged to donate to the Cecilia Rawlins Fund, which supports students at Wiley Elementary School), and there are even more hand-crafted items, like linen napkins, live-edge cheese boards, and bread bags made from cloth paper. “The dinner party is something I have come to look forward to every single year,” says repeat guest Jessica Heath. “The entire evening feels like something out of a fairytale.”

The other thing Kipp makes: all the food. “Sandy is so creative with coming up with the menu,” says Attride. “She starts planning the next one the day after the dinner! I am the lucky captive audience that gets to taste-test.”

Each year the menu is inspired by the season’s offerings and a loose theme of sorts. The inaugural menu was a little Mediterranean, with succulent lamb and a tzatziki beet salad, while another year took a New Orleans approach with shrimp and grits as the main course. This year’s menu will have an Argentinian theme, including grilled pork with a chimichurri sauce, smashed potatoes with garlic aioli, and a strawberry, tomato, and tarragon salad. “Sandy’s cooking is one of the best-kept secrets in Raleigh,” says Heath. “The food is beautiful and delicious.”

While Kipp has made minor adjustments over the past few years, a few key elements have remained the same. “We make them sit down,” she says. “People conversate better, and it feels a little nicer.” And she’s learned that serving family-style is the way to go. “It’s a lot easier than serving 40 individual plates,” she laughs, “but more importantly, it brings that sense of community.” Since the pandemic, their friends and neighbors are thrilled to be doing something so special, but also so normal — even if there’s sanitizer at the table. Says Attride: “I love that Sandy’s idea has turned into this tradition, and now we have a newfound appreciation for being able to get together.” 

Find recipes here from Sandy Kipp’s last dinner party, which was inspired by seasonal North Carolina produce.


This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of WALTER magazine.