With an avant garde and modern approach to the café experience, Chef Roy Shvartzapel (elBulli, Pierre Hermé in Paris, Balthazar, Bouley, Cyrus and Bouchon Beverly Hills), Brad Sanders and Kathy Sanders along with a stellar lineup of culinary talent, are creating Common Bond, a café and bakery designed by Italian firm Costa Group, the same team responsible for New York City’s Eataly. Located at 1706 Westheimer Road (at Dunlavy), the café promises to be unlike any other in the US in both concept and design. It is slated to open in Fall 2013.
“The plan is to bring an extraordinary yet approachable, chef-driven product to the dining public at a price point that is accessible to all,” says Shvartzapel, recently named one of the “Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America” by Dessert Professional magazine and one of the three principals and executive chef in the venture. “Rather than a one-time ‘experience of a lifetime’ as most would receive at a chef-driven fine dining restaurant, we want to offer patrons the opportunity to return again and again, enjoying a ‘lifetime of experiences’ in a more relaxed environment.”
According to Shvartzapel, the café will offer an impressive savory menu as well as a vast array of viennoiserie, pastry, bread, gelato and more, all executed at the highest level. It is designed to serve as a casual gathering place for breakfast, lunch or dinner, as well as a late night cup of coffee and pastry. In addition to a broad selection of coffees and teas, Common Bond will serve wine and craft beer.
Joining Shvartzapel in the kitchen are Executive Pastry Sous Chef Jillian Bartolome (Bouchon Bakery at Rockefeller Center and previously at Cyrus), Chef de Cuisine David Morgan (John Besh’s August Restaurant in New Orleans and formerly at Cyrus, along with Mellise and Fundamental L.A., both in Los Angeles, CA), Head Bread Baker Drew Gimma (Bouchon and Per Se in New York City), Assistant Bread Baker Tony Stein (Evergrain in Chestertown, MD and earlier at Bouchon Beverly Hills), and Assistant Bread Baker Alec Bartee (Café Besalu in Seattle, WA and previously at Cyrus and Della Fattoria in Petaluma, CA).
As for the Common Bond name, the three principals went through an extensive process with New York City branding firm Base Design to create a title that would best exemplify their concept. “The shared history and vision for the future among both the principals as well as the chefs is what kept us coming back to the name ‘Common Bond, ’ says Brad Sanders, co-principal and chief business officer for the café. “Among the principals, we share a tremendous love for the city, along with a desire to bring a world-class café and bakery to our hometown,” says Sanders, who holds degrees from the University of Texas, the University of Houston Law center and the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Shavartzapel, who has worked with each chef joining the venture and is the common bond among them, adds “We all are of the belief that extraordinary cuisine can and should be available to everyone. We are united in our passion to bring an outstanding product on every level to patrons from all walks of life. That is what drove the tagline ‘Only for All.’ The logo, round rather than square, is representative of people coming together at a table.”
Kathy Sanders, the business’s third principal, is a third-generation Houstonian and avid cook who was active in the country’s food revolution in the 70s, forming friendships with culinary innovators James Beard, Peter Kump, Pierre Franey and Barbara Kafka. “When I met with Brad and Roy, there was never any hesitation about getting involved with this project,” she says. “It was truly unbelievable how in sync we were.”
Among the Common Bond chefs, Shvartzapel, a University of Houston and Culinary Institute of America graduate, is the only one who can claim Houston roots. “I never dreamed that my culinary training would lead me back to my hometown,” he says,“but when I witnessed the extraordinary transformation of the city’s culinary landscape, I knew Houston was where we wanted to be.” As soon as the concept was finalized, chef recruits were invited to Houston for a weekend stay to explore the city. “They immediately fell in love with the city, its Southern hospitality and the camaraderie among Houston’s chef community,” says Shvartzapel. “Instantly and enthusiastically they were all on board.”
Menus will change seasonally and inspirationally. Popular dishes will remain as long as they respect the season. “We won’t change the menu just for the sake of changing,” says Shvartzapel. The Common Bond chefs, all proponents of local farmers and creameries, plan to source locally as long as it doesn’t compromise quality. “Our goal is to offer the best flavors and tastes that can be had.”
As for ambience, the 3,600 square foot building designed by Italy’s Costa Group in collaboration with local firm Heights Venture Architects is best described as “casual urban elegance,” according to Brad Sanders. It will have a modern aesthetic, with lots of wood, concrete and glass. There will be a fully exposed kitchen designed by HKD Design, as well as a 24-foot bakery case. The café will be counter service, seating 60 indoors and accommodating an additional 40 on the patio.
“Common Bond will be a feast for the senses,” says Shvartzapel. “What will hit you first, before you walk in the door, is the smell of freshly baked breads and pastries. Then you will take in the décor, design, even the staff uniforms. Finally a plate arrives. If the presentation is beautiful but the food is not flavorful, all dissipates and your experience is simply average,” he says. “Here, everything will be created in the name of deliciousness or it will not be done.”
“We are incredibly excited about bringing Common Bond to Houston,” says Kathy Sanders. “ We want Houstonians to be proud to say that they have the best café and bakery in the country.”