As Latina Kitchen & Bar prepares for its final seating before the restaurant is replaced, the new owners are working quickly to launch a new restaurant, The Common Room, in the Needham Center space. They hope they can finish in time for a January opening.
After numerous hearings before the Select Board to ensure the restaurant would be in compliance with Needham’s regulations, the final piece fell into place on Nov. 28 when The Common Room was granted a liquor license by the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. Now the team is putting their unique touches on what they hope will be the new local hotspot.
“Needham sets the bar high,” said Tom Griffin, The Common Room co-owner and Needham native. “There are so many great restaurants in Needham, and we’re really happy to be part of that family.”
The concept for The Common Room is a gathering spot, a place where families can come for a good meal at the right price and a place for people to meet up with friends for a drink and to watch a game.
“We’re not just in the town but part of the town, and everyone feels welcome here,” said Griffin.
The team is focused on delivering high-quality comfort food such as burgers, wings, steak tips and salads. “The idea is to take a pretty simple menu and do it the best you can do it,” said Griffin.
“The food [at Latina] is phenomenal,” said Scott McCourt, co-owner and also a Needham native. “But is it food that someone is going to come twice a week to eat?”
He said The Common Room will have a wide variety of options. “Try to get a family of five to agree on one cuisine,” said McCourt. “Maybe someone doesn’t want sushi, maybe someone doesn’t want Indian. We’re putting in the food we know we want to eat and know our families want to eat.”
In crafting their menu, the team is relying on Freddie Zagami, owner of Salem Food Market in Dedham, and Dante Dragani, owner and chef of Club Dante in Brookline. They also hope to keep some of Latina’s signature dishes as they hope the chef will stay on with the new restaurant. They will have gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options and will use locally sourced ingredients.
Some changes patrons can expect to see in the early days include more of a wood-and-brick decor reminiscent of an Irish pub, a long common table parallel to the bar where friends and singles can sit for a drink and a chat near one of several big screen televisions that will be mounted around the restaurant, and a new beer tower that will feature 12-14 on tap options.
Despite repeated hearings and close scrutiny from government boards, both McCourt and Griffin said they were not troubled by the extra time it took to get here. “I understand what [the town] is doing. They’re taking care of the integrity of the town,” said Griffin.
“I don’t want to see things move in that aren’t right for the town,” said McCourt. “We feel we know pretty well what’s right for the town.”
The team has been planning for this moment for more than two years, as they had been eyeing the former New Garden site when that became available. They said the reception from other restaurant and pub owners, including New Garden, The James and Blue on Highland, has been warm and enthusiastic, with a sense that The Common Room will not only be good for the community but will bring in business across the board. “If we all do a good job, more people are going to come into the area,” said Griffin.
Residents also are eager for the restaurant to open. “The input that we’ve been getting is everybody is unbelievably enthusiastic,” said McCourt. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been asked ‘when are you opening?’ And when we tell them our plans they say that’s exactly what they would do. So I think we’re hitting a sweet spot.”
McCourt said they hope to keep as much of the current staff as possible. “When you walk around you see how spotless this place is. That’s hard to find.”
The Needham natives, along with their team, have high expectations and a long-term vision for what the restaurant and pub will be. They’ve talked about having musicians, movie nights, weekend specials, opening the front windows like Blue on Highland, and what they call First Fridays when firefighters, police, teachers and other town employees are invited in for a free buffet until the food runs out.
“You want to progress in your business,” said McCourt. “At first it might be a little slow, but we’re fortunate that we have partners and heads of restaurants that have been doing this forever.”
“It’s an all-star team,” said Griffin.