Gratitude And Pasta

Gratitude And Pasta

“Chris Schembra is a sought-after dinner host whose passion lies in facilitating profound human connection in a deeply disconnected world,” according to his website, Gratitude And Pasta. The connection guru joins our host for a lively conversation about his new book and how his “7:47 Club” dinners have fostered gratitude, empathy and human connection in his life and thousands of others.

To get a copy of Gratitude and Pasta click HERE. To learn more about Chris visit 747Club.org or email him directly at [email protected].

Reach out to us with your comments, questions and show ideas! Send us an email, or record a voice memo on your phone and send it to [email protected]

Learn more about our sponsor, OmegaBrite CBD! Distraction listeners can SAVE 20% on their first order with the code: Podcast2020. Shop online at OmegaBriteWellness.com.

Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is Sarah Guertin and our recording engineer/editor is Pat Keogh.

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A transcript of this episode can be found below.


Dr. Ned Hallowell:

This episode of Distraction is sponsored by Omega Bright CBD formulated by Omega Bright Wellness. Creators of the number one Omega-3 supplements for the past 20 years. Omega Bright CBD. Safe, third party tested, and it works. Shop online at omegabrightwellness.com.

Hello, this is Dr. Ned Hallowell and welcome to Distraction. Today, we have a truly fascinating, interesting, and dare I say, unique guest. I only met him recently, but I feel like I should have known him for many, many years. He’s led a fascinating life that is still in its early stages, but he’s produced Broadway plays, he’s run businesses. He has really, I think, come into a very special place with his work on facilitating human connection. And as all of you listeners know, that’s my main squeeze in terms of what I feel most passionately about. Particularly in today’s world where we’re so disconnected and now, with the pandemic we’re having to keep even more distance.

And, and so the force of connection becomes even more important. He came up with a stroke of genius. He combined food with connection. I’ll let him tell you about these amazing dinners that he produces, but his book is called Gratitude and Pasta. And if you ever want to see a great cover for a book, get this book. It’s makes you want to go out and get a bowl of pasta right on the spot. But gratitude and pasta, and I will leave it to him to tell you about what it is. Because you’ve never heard of a program like this before, and you’ll want to sign up immediately. He’s truly remarkable. I’m sure he has ADD, although I don’t know that I’ve proved that. But I’m sure he does, because anyone who is as talented and multi interested and charismatic as this gentleman is must have this wonderful condition. So with that as an introduction, let me turn it over to my new friend, I hope. And certainly my new guest and acquaintance, Mr. Chris Schembra.

Chris Schembra:

Hey Ned, thanks for having me today and what an amazing chat we had on my LinkedIn Live last week. A lot of our guests wrote in saying how much they personally connected with your, not only message of connection being their vitamin C, but on the great work that you have done for so many years on the topic of ADHD. And my own mother who watched it, wrote in and said, “I don’t know if you knew Chris, but we pretty much based your entire childhood off Driven to Distraction.” And my mother ended up creating a lot of ADHD child and adult groups on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina when I was going through what I was going through. So first of all, thank you for doing what you do for the world. Your words and research means so much to so many. And I didn’t even realize you had impacted my life so much so, even from back in the day.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Well, thank you. That’s wonderful to hear, and it gives you an idea of how much older I am than you are.

Chris Schembra:

No secret there, Ned.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

So tell us this wonderful story about a bowl of pasta and a dinner party. It’s just a fascinating story, please.

Chris Schembra:

Thank you. You know, Ned, this story dates back to, really, July of 2015. And the story is still evolving even today with what’s going on in our country right now with this pandemic. But the story, to put into perspective, as you mentioned, I used to be involved in theater and show business and putting on plays and entertaining massive audiences, millions of people all across the world. And the tipping point in 2015 was that after five years of being in show business, everything looked great on the outside. But after coming back to New York City, after producing a Broadway play over there, I found myself feeling four things. Lonely, unfulfilled, disconnected, and insecure. Those are four feelings that have plagued me my entire life through my diagnosis of ADHD at the age of five, to be on cow tranquilizers for my entire young adulthood, to suicide, depression, rehab, jail.

I knew in 2015 that if I didn’t get my shit together again, I might as well end up back in that old habit train I had always walked down. And in that darkness, I thought back to, “I just got back from Italy. What did I love most about Italy?” Because Italy really changed my life back in 2015. I realized I loved the food the most. So in that darkness and that disconnection, I started fiddling with food in my kitchen and inventing different recipes and the [groany 00:05:23], amaretto and ice cream and gelato. And one day I invented a pasta sauce recipe and figured, huh, it’s pretty good, but I should probably feed it to people to see if it’s really even good or not. So one day I invited 15 of my friends over to our home for dinner and a ritual began. 6:30 p.m., cocktails began. 8:00 p.m., I wanted dinner served.

And so, at 7:47 p.m., we put the pasta in the pot. And because I was a lazy fella, I actually delegated 11 specific tasks, empowering the attendees to work together to create the meal. So we worked together. We sat down for dinner. And I’m a big fan of communal discussion, so I asked the simple question at that very first dinner. “If you could give credit or thanks to one person in your life that you don’t give enough credit or thanks to, who would that be?” See, I asked that question because for my entire life, I had watched people always asking the wrong questions. Usually when someone goes up and has a deep conversation with someone, they might ask, “What’s your biggest fear? What’s your biggest failure? What’s your greatest regret?” In my experience, those questions make people clam up. They’re very intimidating questions. So we asked the question that allowed people to tell story, not necessarily about themselves, but share gratitude of others.

And when you watch a storyteller telling a story about someone else, you learn more about them than you could have in years of knowing them. So at that very first dinner we witnessed the impact that pasta and working together and having simple conversations around gratitude had on that people. I mean, by the numbers, if less than six people cried, we would consider it a failed night.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

So your goal is to have everyone crying.

Chris Schembra:

My goal is to have everyone cry because then I don’t have to leave that night wondering, did I have an impact or not? Tears are the physical incarnation of transformation. And so, at that very first dinner I was hooked. I went from being a lonely, miserable, unfulfilled little guy in a bubble, to now starting to feel connection.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yes.

Chris Schembra:

When I realized the impact that the dinners were having on me, I knew I couldn’t live without these dinners.

Chris Schembra:

When I realized the impact they were having on others, I realized I had a moral obligation to serve my community and help create connection in this lonely, unfulfilled society that we live in. And we just continued and it became a movement. And now, 400,000 relationships sparked later, we’ve had a good time, seen some good things and heard some good stories.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

And where do you hold the dinners?

Chris Schembra:

So we are… We hold the dinners all over the world. They started in our home. I mean, for that first year, we didn’t know what we were building. We just had one goal. And you may have heard this from many people with ADHD, is that I’ve done so many things in my life, but I was always bouncing around from idea to idea, getting people to finish my projects and picking up the loose scraps where I left off.

Chris Schembra:

And I said, “Let me just see these dinners through for a whole year. Let me see what these dinners would do for my life.” So in that first year, did 54 dinners every week, once a week for free in our home in New York City. We’ve had 808 people in our 350 square foot apartment in that first year. And then, they moved around the world and all that kind of good stuff. So we go into different towns and cities and countries, and we take over third party, residential venues and invite the people to have a nice family style meal. Instead of going to a restaurant where when you go to a restaurant you’re not treated special. They rush you in, then they rush you out. So we said, “Well, everywhere we do these dinners we’re literally going to take over an Airbnb or Peerspace or a Splacer for an entire night. And that is going to be the safe space for people to gather.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

And you have a set number, correct?

Chris Schembra:

When you bring 18 people together, it’s small enough to where everybody… It’s small enough to where everybody can share, but it’s large enough where the power of community is what creates that transformation. But then, we got better at our model and then we started realizing that what’s even bigger than the dinner table is the thought leadership of gratitude. And when we dove into the thought leadership of gratitude, regardless of what food is being served, then we could scale to even larger dinners. So then we started producing 160 person dinners and 400 person dinners. And we were on track… If this pandemic hadn’t happened, we were on track to producing thousand person dinners. And so, really, just as long as you maintain the connection between gratitude, storytelling, connection, and food, you can do anything at any size.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

And you have the same set schedule? You convene at 6:30?

Chris Schembra:

Yeah, pretty much. Of course, now that we’ve done everything… Now that we’re doing everything digitally, we’ve made 7:47… So, 7:47 p.m. at our dinners used to be the magic moment when everybody would work together and the pasta would go in the pot. And that was like, that became our brand. Literally, our company’s name is 747. But now that you don’t have to have that cocktail hour, the delegation of the tasks, now we do our virtual dinner starting at 7:47 to honor that part of eating together and sharing together without having to have all the early stuff.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

And they still go around and answer the question, “To whom do you feel grateful that you haven’t told how grateful you are?”

Chris Schembra:

When the pandemic started and quarantines, lockdowns began, and mind you, the interesting part about what’s happening now is that my life doesn’t look that much different than it did in 2015. Here we are in 2020, at the beginning of the year we had a book come out, and I was holding my book. And I said, “I need to bring this book to Italy, to show Rome what we’ve built because of her.” We built an entire movement and sparked so many relationships because of one city, Rome, Italy. So my dad and I, we hopped on a plane in February, and we brought my book over to Italy. Really wanted to show the good. Now, at the time, Italy was hurting. Italy was starving for connection. Italy, by mid February, it was already halfway in lockdown. The north was already fully locked down, and the virus started making its way down the coast to Rome. My dad and I left Italy, got back to New York City, and I had to put ourselves in a mandatory, two week quarantine.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

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Chris Schembra:

Before America even caught onto the quarantine, there I was, alone, isolated for two weeks, feeling lonely, unfulfilled, disconnected, insecure. The same things I felt in 2015. So in that moment, in that darkness, we knew we had two ways we could have gone. We could have crawled in a hole, done nothing, or we could have listened to the needs of the community, pivot it into a digital experience and started serving the needs of the people we serve. So we did that and we happened to find this model that helps solve one of the biggest a-ha moments we were hearing from our attendees. Is that people came back every night, the digital dinners, because they craved meeting someone new.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yes.

Chris Schembra:

In this world, now in quarantine, we just talk to our friends, talk to her family, talk to our coworkers. There’s no real opportunities to meet new people. And so, when people said, “That’s what we want the most out of it.”

Chris Schembra:

I looked at our digital dinners and said, “I don’t want to be just speaking on a stage digitally and having everybody listen.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yeah.

Chris Schembra:

I want to be the facilitator, as we do in our dinners, I want to be the facilitator for them to have the stage, them to tell the stories and create the content.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Right.

Chris Schembra:

So luckily, Zoom has the ability for us to bring our attendees and place them into breakout rooms. So two different times, through our digital dinners, we place people in small groups so that they can meet each other and I’m not even part of it.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

That’s wonderful, yeah.

Chris Schembra:

I’m doing the dishes, I’m texting on Instagram or something while they’re in the breakout rooms meeting each other. And so, that gratitude question serves as the connection point for one of the big breakout rooms for 15 minutes. I mean, it’s like throwing them out to the wolves. I have no control over what they talk about in those breakout rooms, but this gratitude question keeps them on track, and teaches them to be present, be better question askers, listen, because the other person on the other end of the line is likely lonely and needs you to listen to them now.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yeah. That’s another title. You have chief question asker.

Chris Schembra:

Yeah. You know, we used to call ourselves… My job title at my own company, for what it’s worth, used to be founder and curator. And I always said, “What is a curator? Curating people or something? They sound like chess pieces.” And then, I was out in Los Angeles, I was sitting in a seat at a conference, a big summit, to my left was Jeff Bezos, to my right was Novak Djokovich, and in front of me was Kobe Bryant on the stage. Right in front of me, it was Kobe Bryant. And Kobe, at the time, was talking about his, Dear Basketball, which was the poem that became a short film, then would end up winning the Academy Award in 2018. And I wasn’t even listening to Kobe. I was watching this short, bowler cap, bowling shirt wearing, short guy named in Cal Fussman interview Kobe Bryant. I didn’t listen to a word Kobe said. I watched the style of which Cal Fussman asked his questions. In that moment I realized that was the true power in the room. That was the true opportunity for the audience to connect to Kobe’s messages, were well-placed questions.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

So you became the chief question asker?

Chris Schembra:

Yeah. So pretty much on the spot, Cal became a dear friend and mentor, and I changed my job title to founder and chief question asker.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

That’s wonderful. Now, if somebody wants to get invited to one of these dinners, what do they do?

Chris Schembra:

They email in [email protected] and either myself or someone from our team will respond. And we’re doing virtual dinners pretty much every night of the week between 20 to 100 people.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Wow.

Chris Schembra:

And it’s been a great joy and they’re completely free. So if you’re listening to this and you’re feeling isolated, you’re feeling lonely, you need somebody to talk to.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yeah. So let’s say it again, [email protected]

Chris Schembra:

Yeah. But if you come, you got to make two promises. One is, that you’ll show up on time at 7:47 p.m. sharp. And two is, that you’ll come with an open heart and a willingness to ask deep followup questions and create the safe space for others to have a voice. Because when you can allow others to have a voice, you’ve created true connection, as you call the other vitamin C.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Absolutely.

Chris Schembra:

So needed in today’s day and age.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Vitamin connect. That’s what we need more than anything. If you charge nothing for the dinners, how do you make your money?

Chris Schembra:

So for the first dinners we did back in 2015, we made a promise to ourselves. Give the people what they want. If it takes a year, it takes year, but give the people what they want. Serve the needs of the people, and you’ll do two things. A, you’ll have built and become as good at your product, at your service offering as anybody can imagine. And B, you’ll have built up so much goodwill and social capital by giving your gift to the world that people will come back for years to come wanting what you have. And in this time, everybody’s going through some sort of tough time. And if I can give those in need, and those in need has a different definition today. Those in need doesn’t just mean the poor person on the corner, the sick person in a hospital. Those in need means the person at the top of a company with 20,000 employees who has to lay off half his staff, or do something else to make sure nobody starves. Who knows what people are going through?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Right.

Chris Schembra:

We can give to those in need as Adam Grant proved in his wonderful, ground shattering book, Give and Take. He found that it’s the givers of this world who ultimately become the most successful. And we happen to have had a good run of success in recent years and are able to be afforded the opportunity to give in this time of need. Because the relationships you invest in when times are tough, will ultimately lead to great lasting loyalty for years to come. Loyalty is, we know is cheaper than acquisition. So if we have a client that’s struggling or a referral partner, or a friend, or whoever, serve them now, knowing that all it takes is a couple of those relationships to really support us for years to come. For us to have a productive and profitable revenue stream for many years to come ..

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Well. If any of you listening want a quick dose of meaningful connection tonight, just email Chris, [email protected]. It’s such a beautiful concept in the way you have engineered it to work so wonderfully well. And then, yes, you’re supplying what I think, I know the world is starved for, meaningful connection. And that wonderful opening question that you, the chief question asker asks, “Who is someone to whom you feel grateful that you don’t usually thank?” And I remember when I was on your podcast, you asked me that question. And my answer was a dog from my childhood. So it doesn’t have to be a person, but I imagine it usually is a person. Is that correct?

Chris Schembra:

Well, the story you told about your dog is one of the most beautiful stories we’ve heard in all our history. But some people come in and share stories of personal liberation. They share stories of overcoming fear. They share stories of regret or shame. Some of the most beautiful things will happen. Some people will forgive their mothers. Some people will thank their ex-girlfriend for making them gay. Some people will… Two people have come out gay around the dinner table, the same night, one night. Amazing. Some people will thank themselves.

There’s no shortage of the different types of relationships that we often overlook, whether it’s on purpose or not. Some of the toughest relationships in our lives that continuously fail us or continuously criticize us or continuously put us in that deep, dark corner. We should thank those relationships because that fuels our want to be better, to be successful. The people who failed us, sometimes, are the greatest to thank because they gave us that chip on the shoulder. So it’s amazing when you give people the platform to share a story and not about themselves, but about others, but you really get an opportunity for connection.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Absolutely. This is just wonderful. Well, I have a feeling that you and I are going to be interacting for years to come. But today, if you’d like to get Chris’s book, Gratitude and Pasta, great title, you can find it on Amazon or at gratitudeandpasta.com. And as I said before, you can find Chris on the web at 747club.org. Or email him at [email protected]. When I first saw 747, I thought it was something about airplanes. But no, it’s because that’s when you put the pasta in the pot, at 7:47, precisely. Don’t be late.

Chris Schembra:

Yeah, don’t be late.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Go to one of these dinners, get Chris’s book. And most of all, open your heart to his wonderfully needed, compelling, and very exciting message of creating a connection. And please continue to connect with us, share your thoughts, questions, and show ideas by emailing us at [email protected]. Thank you so much, Chris Schembra. Thank you so much for being here and really, I’ll say to you what you said to me. Thank you for what you do. It’s a tremendous service that you’re providing this world and you visited the depths to find what needed to be said. And now you’ve risen to the heights and you’re delivering it to us all. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Chris Schembra:

And thank you, Ned, for being open to our connection in the first place. I mean, the email address you just gave your listeners here today for them to reach out to you, I must say to your readers, it works. My little cousin, Chris, Christopher Gayda, he reached out to you and you were kind enough to take the call and make the introduction. And here we are, so. That Chris is one a heck of a… He’s a budding, future superstar of our world. And I’m honored that he’s my little cousin and I’m honored that he brought us together because a lot of good’s going to come from this relationship, Ned. I’m excited about it.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Me too, Chris. Very much so. Thanks a million.

Chris Schembra:

All right, my man. Talk to you soon.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. The podcast is recorded and mixed by the unbelievably talented Pat Keogh. And our producer is the equally, unbelievably talented Sarah Guertin. I’m Dr. Ned Hallowell and thank you so very much for listening.

The episode of Distraction you just heard was sponsored by Omega Bright CBD. Formulated by Omega Bright Wellness, Creators of the number one Omega-3 supplements for the past 20 years. Omega Bright CBD. Safe, third party tested, and it works. Shop online at omegabrightwellness.com. That’s O-M-E-G-A-B-R-I-T-E wellness.com.

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