Commune is a real food, farm-to-table restaurant with two locations, one in Virginia Beach and one in Norfolk. The business is owned by local food trailblazer, Kevin Jamison. He opened the Virginia Beach location in 2015 and since then the business has grown to include two restaurants, a bakery, an organic farm and an events business. The combined businesses employee about 80 people in the Hampton Roads region, and bring in several million dollars a year in revenue.
Commune has staked out a reputation for its high level of commitment to sourcing seasonal ingredients from local farms and suppliers. Where many farm-to-table restaurants boast about their use of local farms, so few of them actually do what they say they’re doing. Commune is one of those few that delivers, to the point where more than 90% of ingredients are supplied locally, and items like avocados, which don’t grow in Virginian, cannot be found on the menu.
Some of the ingredients are sourced from literally out the back door. The Virginia Beach restaurant maintains a sizable garden on an adjacent lot, where herbs and some vegetables are grown. Other produce is sourced from its own farm, New Earth Farm, about 20 minutes down the road in the Pungo community.
New Earth is a 21-acre sustainable working and educational farm Kevin and some other partners purchased in 2017. Kevin has continued the regenerative organic practices on the farm, using chicken rotations, cover crops and other soil building practices to grow nutrient dense seasonal vegetables. In 2018, a new building was erected on the farm where they hold cooking classes and speaking events, as well as weddings.
Kevin Jamison runs five interconnected food businesses in Hampton Roads. He opened Commune in Virginia Beach in 2015, followed by Commune in Norfolk in 2017. In 2018 he opened Prosperity Kitchen, a bakery in Virginia Beach, right up the road from Commune. Tying the brands together is an events business that provides catering for weddings and corporate functions. As previously mentioned, New Earth Farm in Pungo is part of the vertically integrated operation and it is there where things pretty much started for Kevin.
Kevin has a degree in international law, with an emphasis on food security. He worked for the United Nations in New York before returning to live in Virginia Beach, where he’d spent some of his high school days. He helped start a non-profit called Community Development International (CDi), whose mission is to to foster sustainable development, with an initial focus on Haiti. Through his work with CDi, Kevin connected up with New Earth Farm, then being run by “Farmer John” Wilson. Kevin helped develop some educational and outreach programs for the farm, including some real food cooking classes that kept selling out. Seeing an opportunity, he then started a crepe pop-up business, and in October 2015, he moved into the renovated 1940s-era building on Virginia Beach Boulevard, a few blocks from the Oceanfront. The restaurant has been a hit since, and continues to draw big crowds, particularly on the weekends during the busy beach season.
The 0% SOIL Loan received by Commune from Slow Money Virginia in September 2019 went toward modifications to and expansion of its kitchen at the Virginia Beach location. This includes a new and larger hood system and a larger range. It also includes removal of one wall in the kitchen and moving and increasing their refrigeration, while creating a new food prep area. In all, these changes allow for 30% more working space in the kitchen. The expected benefits will be to provide better working conditions for the kitchen staff, more cold storage for the fresh ingredients that come in daily, and an ability to serve meals more quickly. This last benefit is critical to helping turn over more tables and potentially increase revenue. Due to Commune’s popularity, there can often be a long wait for tables during peak hours and customers often choose not to wait, which is forfeited revenue.
BELOW IS A PHOTO AS CONSTRUCTION GOT UNDERWAY ON SEPTEMBER 23, 2019, AND THE COMPLETED PROJECT A FEW DAYS LATER: