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Cambridge’s Commonwealth Will ‘Hibernate’ for the Duration of the Pandemic

Steve “Nookie” Postal is back with a special dispatch on running a restaurant — or choosing not to — during a pandemic

Restaurant interior full of wood beams
Commonwealth in Cambridge
Meg Jones Wall/Eater

Welcome back to On the House, a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to open and operate a restaurant — or several. In 2013, Steve “Nookie” Postal shared weekly glimpses into his experience opening Commonwealth in Cambridge, later returning to discuss the opening of several locations of Revival Cafe & Kitchen, as well as the still-in-the-works Mothership. Today, he’s back with a special pandemic-era dispatch.

Oh, hello there. Remember me? I’m still here. Where did we leave off? This is not going to be another series of me blabbing on about my life and construction, oh my, and now I’m too fat, and bla bla bla. Maybe this is more a manifesto, although I think manifestos are possibly bad, so maybe just something else. Anyway, where was I?

The ‘rona is here; it’s not been great. We don’t need to get into that, although that is at the heart of all of it. Big picture here: Why am I writing this and why are you reading this? Commonwealth is going into hibernation on September 20.

Hibernation? You mean, like, closed? No. Hibernating, like a bear. ‘Til when? ‘Til this shit is over. I know what Kendall Square looks like in November, December, January, and February in the best of times, with holiday parties. Commonwealth crushes holiday parties. Fried chicken station with a trio of fountains? Check. Smoked brisket carving station with latkes and horseradish cream? Check. We killed those.

We are not in the best of times. Those are gone. So when it gets dark at 4:30 p.m. and it is 30 degrees with 40 mph winds whipping around Kendall and no one is working from their offices until 2021 at the earliest? Yeah, I’m all good with that. And this isn’t a snap decision, like, say, the last time I had to close.

Can we flash back to the middle of March? No one was prepared for this. No one saw this coming. I was in Montana at Paws Up with Jennie Mac, director of good vibes at Revival, and Phil Marshall, general manager of Commonwealth. We were there Wednesday to Sunday, and I closed all of the locations on Tuesday. I mean, that’s fucking crazy, but it happened.

Then we reopened, and we have been operating in this new COVID-19 normal. Some people still suck, but we don’t need to go into that. I see all my industry friends nodding.

Revival is fine. I mean...fine, but still struggling. We are way down, and it’s extremely difficult to do what we are doing now, so when I say fine, I mean we can still stay operating. It’s a very different business in different locations with different deals and different everything.

To talk about deals, none of this would have been possible without my landlord. I know landlords usually get shat on and probably generally for good reason — cough cough Asana Partners from Harvard cough cough — but shoutout to my landlords for being good fucking people and knowing that I have no option.

Hibernation is what it is, and survival is what it is all about.

Why am I trying to survive so hard? First off, for my family and me. I need that place to survive more than anyone.

But then there are our brides and grooms. Commonwealth has blossomed into — I mean, unsubstantiated claim — but I’m going to say the premier small local independent restaurant venue that holds weddings. Not bragging but bragging, and you know what? We are good at weddings. People have fun at Commonwealth weddings. We aren’t always perfect, but you will have a great time. We have 41 confirmed weddings for 2021; that is unbelievable. That is something that we as a team have built from the ground up, and that makes me very proud.

And then there is my team. Tonight was Super Smoker Soaker Sunday, which is basically a huge socially distant barbecue party under a tent at Commonwealth, in front of the kayakers on the water. The other day some guy walked by and was like, Man, 50-yard line here, huh? Yeah, damn. It took a global worldwide pandemic for us to figure it out.

The other day, we did a sendoff for our boy Joey Tony and his better half Lexi; both have worked in the Commonwealth/Revival family. They say you can’t say family, bla bla bla, whatever. It was getting close to the end and the wind started picking up. Kayakers were coming in fast and furious. Wasn’t raining, but I knew it was coming. We have a huge tent, big line, taking orders, and boom, thunder. Lightning. It started pouring. Like, dumping.

Working was me, Wonka (my 13-year-old), Colin O’Hara (chef at Commonwealth), KC from FaO Hospitality, and formidable Steph the Kid from Commonwealth. It started pouring. We were fucked, and all the alumni who were there to send JT and Lexi off knew we were fucked and fucking jumped in and helped drag everything inside. What would have taken the five of us in the pouring rain one hour, we did in five minutes. That was amazing.

And that’s why we’re going to survive: for them, for me, for everyone out there who has come in over the last eight years and supported us.

Thank you to the staff for everything you have all given. These last six months have been an emotional rollercoaster, but I am at peace with this decision, as I know it’s the best course of action so that we can become bigger, better, and stronger when this is all over. Thank you again. Good night.

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Commonwealth (Cambridge)

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