Shaking Up the F&B Industry: Comune
Joe Galati | Owner/Partner | Columbus, Ohio
What Brought You to Vanguard Wines?
We've been working with Vanguard since the beginning — since we first opened. We met them at The Market in Italian Village, at an event they were hosting, and built-up conversation. When we were looking at getting the restaurant together, we realized they had a good portfolio. And that was the start. We made it to one of their Portfolio Shows prior to our opening, and it showed us that the world of wine is huge and to keep our focus narrow on what we're trying to accomplish with Comune.
How Would You Describe Comune’s Wine Experience?
Prior to COVID, our dine-in list ranged from 15 – 25 wines at any given time, and we tried to keep glass pours down to 10 types. We also offered a few special features throughout the week — in limited supply — typically by the glass. Our list has historically been some varietals that people aren't familiar with, and we might add a few touchstones people like. What can we do to give customers what they like, but make sure there's enough depth in unsung heroes and more interesting blends? We lean towards lighter-drinking reds. We don't have many dishes or big meats, so our reds typically land in more acidic, lighter and brighter styles and varietals more so than bold ones.
Tell Us About Your Interest in Natural Wine.
As a restaurant that presents plant-forward cuisine — vegetarian and vegan dishes — we’ve always been focused on it. When we opened in 2018, there wasn’t a big scene for this type of wine in Columbus. A few places were planting the feel, but we wanted our entire list to be geared towards it. When thinking about our wines, we wanted to make sure the producers shared similar values. The way the farmer thinks about produce should be the same way we're thinking about wine and spirits. We latched onto processes that are as natural as possible, carefully crafted with minimal intervention.
What are Your Most Popular Dishes, and Which Varietals do You Recommend for Pairing?
One is going to be our crispy rice, with kimchi, a soft-cooked egg and some avocado. It’s a very rich dish that we’ve had since we opened. The other is a (vegetarian) walnut-maitake bolognese, which is super hearty. And our tempura cauliflower is sweet and tangy — just lightly-breaded. One of the wines we’re trying to get people to move to, especially since the weather is nicer, is Minus 220 from Supernatural out of New Zealand. It's a beautiful white orange with tropical notes, great acid, nice tartness — what I would want to drink outside on a nice day.
How Have You Navigated the Past Year?
Once COVID shut everything down, it took us a good couple months to reassess and get back into what starting small looks like. We switched gears to more of a retail model, offering take-home dinner kits and a small wine selection at retail prices. Retail wine is fascinating; we never played in that world before, but it’s appealing from a consumer standpoint because you’re getting great wines at great prices. It makes me wonder if we change our model and not rely on industry-standard markups going forward. Do we think of creative ways to offer wines that would typically be out of someone's price point from a restaurant standpoint but is a bit more accessible from retail? Or maybe a corkage fee if you want to enjoy it at our restaurant? At the end of the day, the restaurant is a business, so the math needs to work. But we’re thinking about the in-dining portion and deciding the right path.
Looking Ahead, Tell Us What’s Next.
We’ve operated as takeout only and are working towards reopening — the patio first and then some dine-in after that. We want to give our staff the opportunity to get vaccinated and be comfortable. Since they're the ones taking care of everyone, they need to feel safe, so we’re giving them the time it takes. We’re slowly trucking on, excited for this summer and having a chance to experience a bit of normalcy.