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Nookie Reflects on Commonwealth's First Year, One Long Damn Year

For more than 30 weeks in 2013, Steve "Nookie" Postal shared everything he went through opening up Commonwealth in Kendall Square. Now, he reflects on the first year.

Steve "Nookie" Postal
Steve "Nookie" Postal
Katie Chudy for Eater

Let me use this analogy or metaphor or whatever it is to help explain what it's like to own a restaurant: During the opening process, every week without fail, I sat down, poured myself a drink, and spewed my guts about the trials and tribulations of opening my first restaurant. Every week, without fail, I was able to do it. One year later, it has taken me over a month to sit down and write my one-year synopsis. One month where I either couldn't find the time, or, in more honesty, I couldn't find the mental space to sit down and write it. I'm almost dreading this, to be honest.

Very high highs and very low lows.

This has been a tough year physically, mentally, and emotionally. Very high highs and very low lows. The swings are drastic and painful. Let's go to the beginning. Opening can I put this nicely? A shitshow.

The first day, we opened at 7 a.m. My wife and kids and one of our now-regulars were lined up, and it was stressful beyond what I could have anticipated or expected. Actually, back up a bit. Friends & family was the night or so before. I remember walking outside right before we opened, and I cried. Cried my eyes out. I was so nervous, proud, scared, name it, I had it. It was a little overwhelming. Scratch that — a lot overwhelming.

We got through it. The Hobart broke (no bread), the ice cream machine broke (no ice cream), a pipe burst in the dining room (you know what that means) — but we got through it and survived.

But we learned. And we got better. And faster.

The first months were tough. It's cold and windy as fuck down here in Kendall, and not a lot of people knew we were here. It was slow, especially around the holidays. November was a tough month to open. But business grew, especially lunch business. And we got better at it. The first time 300 people walked in at once, it went...once again, how can put this nicely? It was...less than spectacular. But we learned. And we got better. And faster.

We lost some people along the way. Pretty much my entire salaried staff that we started with left for various reasons. The only one who stayed was Nick Deluca, my pastry chef and now market manager. Besides him, they all left. Tom Mastricola leaving was the toughest pill to swallow. Tom is a legend in this industry and for good reason. He helped me out tremendously, and Commonwealth is a better restaurant because of him. Cafe ArtScience is lucky to have him.

I remember an instance when we hired a new front-of-house manager, and he came to me after about three days and demanded more money. I wasn't having the best of days, and I don't take kindly to threats or demands. Basically, he left, but before he did, he emailed the entire staff and told them I fired him after three days...which I did, but that wasn't exactly how it went down. Tom told me I needed to be a little calmer and to think things over and not be so reactionary, which I do try to do now, although I would have done the same thing looking back.

I actually think people really like us.

Anyway, it hasn't all been bad. There have been tons of good things. Great reviews from our local critics (although Devra, I still think you forgot that extra half a star, and I know you read this), two Best of Boston Awards, a James Beard dinner in, I actually think people really like us.

And I can't forget to talk about my friends. They have been huge, from people I haven't seen since college or high school to people whom I see all the time. They have been coming in droves. It's been great. My closest friends Kate and James come in every Sunday for brunch, and James has been our de facto IT guy. Every restaurant needs a James. Who do you call when the music doesn't work? Who do you call when the computers get a bug? Who do you call when the wireless doesn't work? James, James, and James. Huge lifesaver there.

My three kids have adjusted to Restaurant Dad.

I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about my family. My three kids have adjusted to Restaurant Dad. I don't get to see them as much as I used to. I try to drop them at school every day, but when I come home, they are usually asleep. Sometimes I just sit there and watch them sleep. Sounds a little creepy, and if I still had my mustache, maybe it would be, but I don't know — it's nice to see them sleeping, all bundled up and peaceful.

And then there is my wife. She has dealt with the brunt of the crap more than I have. She basically became a single parent of three overnight. But she has been so supportive and hasn't complained at all. Well, that part was a lie, but you get my point. I think that if I didn't have as supportive a partner as I have, I wouldn't be in the position I am, and this restaurant wouldn't be possible.

Anyway, here we are now. I have a great staff: Ellie (my CDC) and Doughnut Lady helping me in the kitchen; Nick manning the pastry world; Joe, Longbottom, Chicken Salad, and Bryant manning the front; and Jo Jo in the back keeping the office and the books in order. I couldn't ask for more. Staubinator [Michael Staub of Group M] still pops in once in awhile to check on me and make sure we are doing okay. I don't call him at 6 a.m. anymore. Now I'm the one getting the calls at 6 a.m. from the dishwasher who can't come in or the cook who broke his hand or the produce guy who doesn't have the exact kind of apple I ordered...

I've felt every single bump along the way.

But one year, one long damn year. People ask all the time, "Did it fly by?" Ha! Hell no. It's creeped along, and I've felt every single bump along the way. I have bruises to prove it, but I think I'm stronger and better now for it all. You know, with all the shit and bad stuff, to be honest, I would do it all over again. I really would. I mean, I have woken up and said to myself on numerous occasions, "What the hell did I get myself into?" But I really would do it all over again.

And who knows, maybe I will...very soon. Happy Hanukkah, everyone, and come on down to Commonwealth and say hello. (That is the wittiest and best thing I could come up with to tell you that I'm still opening Steinbones soon...)

PS — We do lunch deliveries to anywhere in the city, offices of 12-500. No problem. Give us a call. (Shameless plug, but what the fuck? It's worth it, right?)

Commonwealth (Cambridge)

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