Sustainability is a word often overused and underemployed. However, the Commune—a multidimensional restaurant co-op—has successfully created innovative menus based entirely on a local food system. From local farms to customer’s tables, Commune offers a variety of ingenuitive salads, sandwiches, customizable bowls, brunch treats, and even specialty drinks (easily adjusted to be vegan or vegetarian).
Owner Kevin Jamison, with experience both in legal and agricultural work at New Earth farm in Pungo, envisioned a restaurant oriented around local resources. His idea took flight as he crafted locally sourced, European cafe-inspired crepe dishes. After hosting numerous pop-ups, Jamison received enough investment support to open the Virginia Beach Commune location, near the Oceanfront, in 2015.
Two years later, Jamison and a few partners were able to purchase New Earth farm—21 acres of land to produce ingredients for the restaurant, as well as employ and educate the community.
Food education and upholding an environmentally conscientious menu are two of the highest priorities for Commune. The company has always been more than just a restaurant business, but especially with growing success, a second location was opened in Norfolk in 2017. The Norfolk storefront resides in a stunning and spacious, urban historical building in the rich Ghent community.
Once again inspired by the lack of culinary knowledge, Commune was able to collaborate with The Crop Foundation—who seek to educate young culinary artists and agriculturalists on the future of sustainable eating through classes, pop-ups and even scholarships. Their symbiotic relationship has expanded the Commune’s menu to new minds, and extended the foundation’s reach.
Now, the restaurant exists as a cooperative system, relying on seasonal ingredients from their own farm, garden or from neighboring farms within a 200 mile radius. All breads and pastries are sourced from nearby bakeries, and–specifically at their Virginia Beach location—they were able to open their own bakery in 2018. These Commune additions have received heavy support from the city of Virginia Beach and the state as a whole, due to the positive effects of self-sufficient businesses, especially in the food industry.
Long term loyal employee, Megan Caldwell—manager of the front of the house in Virginia Beach—was more than eager to interview about the Commune’s origin, the difficulties it faced during the pandemic and the aesthetic the restaurant strives to provide.
During COVID-19, the Norfolk location had to, unfortunately, close. Only the Oceanfront restaurant was in service, and solely provided take-out options. This proved to be quite detrimental. Now, since the imminent threat of the pandemic has subsided, and policies have declined, both sites have been restored to their former glory—for which locals are grateful.
Caldwell described that Commune makes it possible to “eat locally and sustainably and deliciously,” as their produce is allowed to “ripen and mature on the vine” unlike mass shipments of bland groceries.
The ever-changing inventory of crops dictate their menu on a daily basis. Adhering to Virginia’s native produce definitely makes planning a menu “challenging with limited resources,” as Caldwell explained, but allows chefs to get creative and explore new methods.
Open from 8, 9, or 10 a.m. (depending on location and day) until 3 p.m., Commune is a perfect spot for a long, relaxing and eco-friendly brunch. If you decide to venture to either of Commune’s locations, you’ll be greeted by a luscious yet homey atmosphere, an unconventionally satiating meal, all served by incredibly knowledgeable servers.
By Sasha Saxon