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Covington's Commonwealth Bistro to reopen with new focus

3 local restaurants receive national exposure
Posted at 5:39 PM, May 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-13 17:55:15-04

COVINGTON, Ky. — Tess and Chris Burns spent seven years working toward a shared dream of opening their own restaurant.

"It's been a wild ride," Tess Burns said of their journey to open Commonwealth Bistro in October 2016.

This Friday, Commonwealth, located at 612 Main St. in Covington's Mainstrasse Village, will offer carryout once again after a one-month hiatus.

Commonwealth offered carryout of its locally-sourced, dine-in menu during the first three weeks of Kentucky's dine-in ban that Gov. Andy Beshear issued to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"So, during that three-week period, we were kind of able to learn a little bit more about what worked and what didn't work," said Chris Burns, who is chef as well as co-owner.

The Burnses said thanks to wonderful customer and community support they decided to close Commonwealth after they ran out of necessary ingredients for the seasonal dishes being offered at the time. The couple then went to work to keep their dream of restaurant ownership alive.

"We kind of did our homework and retooled our entire business to where we are primarily focusing on carryout and takeout orders," Chris Burns said.

As a chef who has worked in fine dining establishments for more than a decade, Burns said designing a takeout-friendly menu was frustrating.

"I was just going through notepads and notepads writing down ideas and I'd be on a hot streak and I'd be writing out a menu and I'd take a step back and I'd look at it and I'd be like, 'I can't keep thinking like this,'" he said.

The menu that will debut on Friday includes comfort foods such as made-to-order macaroni and cheese, along with other comfort foods that still use ingredients sourced from local farmers and butchers.

"We've got a meatloaf based off of my wife's recipe, which I think is fantastic," Burns said.

Tess Burns said they also created a strategy for dine-in seating once Kentucky relaxes those restrictions starting May 22. Commonwealth's 1,200-square-foot rooftop patio will open for outdoor dining. That space will include Yonder, a state park-inspired seating area with bar the couple opened last year.

"We got very lucky to turn that into the Yonder concept," she said.

Chris Burns said he already has created an a la carte menu for the outdoor, dine-in space.

"People will be able to kind of mix and match and create the experience they want," he said.

Tess Burns added they want to add "just some fun stuff" to that menu.

What customers won't see when Commonwealth reopens is a new point-of-sale system. The Burnses said buying a new system that allows them to control online orders was neither fun nor cheap but necessary.

"Nobody really has a big cash reserve to reopen. And so when we make these decisions, we have to make them based upon necessity," Chris Burns said. "The only avenue we had other than through our POS system was through a third-party app that was taking 10% of all the sales. If you're taking 10% of my sales, we're in trouble."

The couple said the hardest thing they had to do during the past month was furloughing their staff. Tess Burns said they've been able to rehire five of those employees so far.

"I think we've been more united and stronger as a team than we've ever been," she said of those they've been able to bring back.

Referencing Commonwealth's gradual reopening, she added, "We knew it was possible. We knew it was not going to be easy."

For up-to-date information about Commonwealth's reopening, visit the bistro's page on Facebook.