Jacob and Danielle Firle and their dog, Orzo, at their home in South Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

You know you’re in the hands of consummate hosts when you visit Jacob and Danielle Firle in their tidy, clean-lined South Portland home.

Before you even get seated – and you’re there to barrage them with questions about the last decade or so of their lives – they ask if you’d like something to drink, coffee or tea perhaps? You say just water will be fine. And they ask, “Still or sparkling?”

The Firles don’t entertain often these days at home, where they live with their 3-year-old daughter, Noli, and rescue pooch, Orzo, a golden retriever mix who’s as friendly as they are. “Jacob and I love to do a special meal at home for just us at least once a week,” Danielle said. “That’s probably the extent of most of our entertaining these days: entertaining ourselves and enjoying the quiet.”

For a couple that runs Secret Supper – the destination dining event series in which they entertain scores of paying guests at least once a month at picturesque, eminently Instagrammable locations across the country, from Brooklyn, New York, to Alaska’s Copper River – quiet time is rare. The Firles will host about 20 Secret Supper events this year. A $285 ticket covers a cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres, a six-course meal, gift bag and other treats. This year’s schedule includes a June dinner in North Yarmouth and another on the Midcoast in August.

Secret Supper is similar to some larger, older dining event series like Outstanding in the Field, which sets up harvest tables on beaches, vineyards, farm fields, fishing docks and city streets for hundreds of customers to enjoy a multicourse, farm-to-table meal prepared by a featured chef. But Secret Supper ticket holders are only told the general area the event will be held – the Firles don’t reveal the exact location of the dinner until 24 hours beforehand, and the menu and chef are a surprise, too.

“A really short way to say it is adventure dining,” Jacob said.


The Firles have held several peak-season Secret Supper events in Maine since 2019, at venues like Squire Tarbox Inn in Westport and Fortland on House Island, as well as winter Secret Suppers at Flanagan Farm in Buxton and Cunningham Farm in New Gloucester. They’ve partnered with Maine chefs Derek Richard of the former Wolfpeach in Camden, Damian Sansonetti of Chaval, and Andrew Taylor of Eventide.

Secret Supper tickets are in high demand. The Firles say their dinners, held for about 60 people, typically sell out in under five minutes. Last September, when the Firles released dates for the 11 new 2024 Secret Suppers to subscribers of their mailing list, they sold out in under 30 minutes – nearly 600 tickets in all.

Chef Josh Berry, who cooked an outdoor winter feast for Secret Supper at Cunningham Farm last December, said his wife, Maggie Knowles, made an insightful observation about the phenomenon. “She said, ‘They have capitalized on FOMO,’ the fear of missing out,” Berry said. “Their Instagram game, their promotional material, the photographs, everything they do is so great that you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, I want to be part of that.’ And so when the tickets go live, they sell out fast.”

Over the last nine years, the Firles have turned Secret Supper from a part-time passion project into their full-time work. Today, they marvel that their dining series, which has a devoted nationwide following, was born in a backyard in Southeast Portland, Oregon.

A Secret Supper gathering at Fortland on House Island in September 2019, the series’ first visit to Maine. Photo by Carly Diaz


The Firles, high school sweethearts in their home state of Minnesota, were living in the West Coast Portland in 2015. Danielle had worked in interior design, and Jacob was project manager for organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Nordstrom, though both were feeling disillusioned by their careers.


“My experience at Nordstrom made me know that the corporate 9-to-5, chained-to-a-desk life wasn’t right for me,” Jacob said. “I needed something of my own.”

Danielle Firle pours wine at a 2022 Secret Supper at The Squire Tarbox Inn in Westport. Photo by Alba Quinones Betancourt

The couple “caught the wine and food bug” living in Portland, Jacob said. Danielle fell in love with wine, living near wine country like Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. The Firles also made a hobby out of exploring the restaurants in Portland’s bountiful food scene.

“We got immersed in that culture,” Jacob said. “We grew up in the Midwest in small towns, and the food is honestly not very flavorful. We were like, ‘Where has Indian been my whole life? Why would it take me until I was 25 to eat this amazing stuff?’ ”

Danielle connected with Eva Kosmas Flores, a photographer, cookbook author and food blogger, via Instagram in July 2015 when Flores was looking for help pulling off a dinner in Southeast Portland for 20 of her friends and acquaintances. (Though Danielle is a founder of Secret Supper, she and Jacob credit Flores with both the Secret Supper name and broad original concept.)

Danielle volunteered, and she and Flores cooked the meal – by all accounts a success. They collected donations from diners to cover the cost. That fall, they held another dinner at a more adventurous location, a farm at the base of Mount Hood.

They sold tickets for the second dinner, another hit, and quickly realized they wanted to continue hosting the events. But they also realized they’d need to hire chefs to handle the cooking, which would allow them to hold larger events for 50-60 people, and let them focus more on hospitality and decor.


“By the time 2017 hit, our events were selling out like crazy. So fast,” Danielle said. They’d been relying on word of mouth and their emailing list to promote the suppers to that point. But they launched their website and Instagram account in 2017, too, which only increased demand.

Starting in 2018, Secret Supper started to branch out beyond the Pacific Northwest, holding events in places like California’s Alexander Valley and Long Island, New York. Flores and another early partner in Secret Supper left to pursue their own work, “and Danielle and I kind of took the business and made it into what it is,” Jacob said.

In 2019, they took on sponsors, partnering with brands like the American Lamb Board, Flor de Caña Rum, Le Creuset, Maker’s Mark, Patron and Rodney Strong Vineyards. “From a business model perspective, the ticket sales pay for the hard costs (of the events), but we can’t live off of that,” Jacob said. “We have to work with sponsors.”

By 2019, Secret Supper had become the Firles’ full-time work, and they couldn’t help but feel stoked for the future of the business. Then the pandemic hit.


The Firles had to postpone six 2020 Secret Supper events until 2021. For almost a year and a half, the young couple had no regular revenue stream and lived mostly off savings. They’d also just had Noli on Thanksgiving Day in 2020 and wanted to move out of Portland, having grown weary of growing mental health and drug addiction problems among residents in the city.


They resumed Secret Supper in May 2021 with a dinner on Thompson Island in Boston Harbor, cooked by a team from Eventide. After returning from that event, smitten by coastal New England, the Firles resolved to move to Maine.

They recalled first falling in love with Maine during a 2019 Secret Supper at Fortland on House Island. “Both of us loved it here,” said Danielle. “It was summer in Maine, one of those beautiful days, and it was intoxicating.”

“I had a vision of having Noli grow up near the water,” Jacob said. “And from a culinary perspective, the fish is so fresh and the oysters are so good, the quality of the restaurants and the people – everything that everyone loves about here, we just fell in love with it, too. It was a food community we felt like we could settle into and grow, and from a business perspective as well.

“It was kind of a fun change,” Jacob added. “We left some things behind, like having the ability to wine taste as much on the weekends. But then you have the sea, the beach, the fishing, all that. There’s still a bunch of hipsters making beer here, that feels normal,” he laughed.

Jacob and Danielle moved to South Portland in November 2021. Secret Supper events that year were fully attended, though the Firles needed to meet social distancing needs by seating guests at separate tables instead of a communal harvest table, and offering individually plated meals instead of family-style service.

In 2022, unexpected weather at an event in Texas forced them to rethink how they chose supper venues. The forecast showed a 3% chance for rain on the evening of the event, and the crowd was assembled in the middle of a field outside Austin, ready to start dinner.


“And it rained like crazy for an hour and 20 minutes,” Jacob said. “Everything and everyone got soaked.”

The Firles offered a refund to their guests, as well as complimentary tickets to a future event. But all the diners except for about five stayed until the rain stopped so they could continue the dinner, which featured plenty of late-summer produce, Texas wagyu beef appetizers, and gochujang grilled chicken with saffron honey, chorizo and red potatoes.

“They helped reset the table, insisted on it,” Jacob said. “The chefs regrouped. We all sat down in soaked clothes, and it was really a magical moment. That’s when we fully knew our audience is the coolest – but we were like, ‘Let’s never make them have to do this again.’ ”

Now every Secret Supper venue has an alternate nearby indoor location in case of bad weather. “We look for a beautiful setting outdoors as a primary option, but now we always try to make sure we have an indoor backup,” Danielle said.

Diners commemorate the moment during cocktail hour at Flanagan Farm’s forest grove skating rink for a Secret Supper in January 2023. Photo by Hitched Willie


Settling in Maine allowed the Firles to explore other event venues, connect with new chefs and hold more dinners around the state, including during the offseason, like a January 2023 Secret Supper at Flanagan Farm. Essie Haimes, co-owner of The Maine Barns, which includes Flanagan Farm, said she was thrilled when the Firles reached out to propose the event.


“We had followed Secret Suppers (online) leading up to that, so it was a really exciting opportunity to collaborate with a group and brand we knew was synonymous with high quality and delicious experiences,” Haimes said. “They have such a great reach that just the association with the brand is really powerful for us.”

Haimes said the event at Flanagan Farm that January was picture-perfect. “We ended up being gifted with a really magical night,” she said. “You could not have scripted better conditions. It wasn’t bitterly cold, there was a light snow falling, there were twinkle lights above the rink so everything had a really warm glow to it. It was really ideal.”

Grilled oysters served outdoors as snow falls during the Flanagan Farm Secret Supper. Photo by Hitched Willie

The evening started with a cocktail hour at Flanagan Farm’s forest grove skating rink, where guests slurped grilled oysters and sipped hot cocktails by the fire, before moving into the heated barn for dinner.

“An outdoor cocktail hour in the middle of January in Maine is not for the faint of heart,” Haimes said. “It’s for an adventurous spirit, and everyone really took to it. The guests are so curious and passionate about food that there’s a sort of warmth and openness that is hard to come by in other dining experiences. Folks go with the expectation or even hope of talking to someone new or creating a new connection. It’s just a really convivial, communal atmosphere.”

“We love to see the connections at the table,” Jacob said. “That’s really what gets us motivated to do the events. People who you’d never expect to get along are hugging, exchanging information, planning the next one they can go to together. One person might be 30 years older than the other, and by the end of the night, they’re best friends.”

“Nowadays, to have something that’s truly a surprise is kind of nice. I don’t think we get that too much anymore,” said design professional Heidi Holland of Kennebunkport. The Flanagan Farm dinner was her first Secret Supper event. “It’s also really nice for those who like to meet other people, who are open to trying new things and seeing new places. For the price of the ticket, what you receive is pretty amazing.”


Holland said she learned about Secret Supper through Instagram. “I saw this beautiful table out in nature, and it was so welcoming and warm and intimate, and I thought, ‘That looks like the kind of thing I’d like to do,'” she said.

She tried for two years to attend a Secret Supper before finally scoring tickets to the Flanagan Farm event. This past April, Holland and a friend traveled to the Provence region of France for Secret Supper’s Culinary Pursuits program, featuring three-day, four-night excursions abroad with the same elements of surprise – each day’s itinerary is secret.

After experiencing Secret Supper at Flanagan Farm, Holland said she was confident the Firles would show her a wonderful time in Provence. “It was so nice not to have to think or plan, and just trust they would be doing an amazing job, which they did,” she said. “Not knowing was wonderful, because you embraced each thing as it happened. We were living in the moment. Danielle and Jacob do everything so tastefully and with genuineness and warmth.”

“Because they have such a great reputation and word of mouth, you have a sense of trust that the food is going to be incredible,” said Berry, who attended a Secret Supper at Squire Tarbox as a paying customer. “Another thing I like about it is I don’t have to plan anything. I just put myself in their hands and be like, ‘Blow me away.’ You get there and you’re instantly in a kind of club. The people are the same as you – they don’t know what the menu is, or where they’re going. Then Jacob is there to welcome everybody, and it’s a great reveal. To be surprised like that these days, you can’t put a price on that.”

Secret Supper diners get to know one another at Westport’s Squire Tarbox Inn in May 2022. Photo by Alba Quinones Betancourt


Secret Supper has become as much a travel-based event as a special meal. Many repeat customers meet the Firles at multiple locations throughout the year.


Secret Supper appeals to “affluent foodies and people who prioritize culinary travel,” Danielle said, noting that in the early years, most of their customers were in their 50s and 60s. Now the majority are in their early to mid-40s.

“Now there’s a younger generation of people that thinks it’s a better idea to invest in an experience than a thing,” said Jacob, adding that people visiting from 14 states comprise the crowd for their June 26 event in North Yarmouth. “It’s become a travel experience for people who are motivated to the point where they’re literally flying across the country to be with us that night, and then explore the area afterward.”

As a perk of the job, the Firles often pick Secret Supper locations based partly on where they’d like to visit at a particular time of year. They also choose cities and regions where many of their customers are based, like the West Coast and New England. Jacob said they have to consider what markets their sponsors care about. “Every alcohol brand in the country seems to focus on Texas, so we end up in Texas a lot,” he said.

As far as the specific venues, the requirements are few. “We don’t need a kitchen or water or electricity,” Danielle said. “We can figure any location out as long as it’s a relatively flat piece of land about 60 feet long that we can put a table on, and it’s beautiful.”

“It doesn’t even have to be a normal spot for a table,” Jacob added. “In fact, it’s better that it’s somewhere they’ve never put a table.”

The Firles recently hired an event producer and marketing content creation manager to help them as Secret Supper continues to grow. “We don’t have a monstrous team,” Jacob said.

In addition to planning the events and finding sponsors, the Firles also physically set up the Secret Supper spaces, from setting out tables and chairs to arranging decor. They oversee the long, leisurely dinners and interact with the guests, then break down and clean the venue at the end of the night.

“We’re the first ones to get there, last to leave,” Jacob said. “It’s usually a 14- or 15-hour day. People think what we do is just hang out, drink wine, chat with chefs and kick our feet up. But hauling trash in the pouring rain is the kind of thing we do. It’s a labor of love, but we really do love what we do.”

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