Tastemakers 2019: Joe Galati and Brook Maikut, Co-owners of Comune

G.A. Benton
Brook Maikut, left, and Joe Galati at Comune

A search for better vegetarian fare and more fulfilling careers led these friends to create a fine-dining restaurant despite no experience in the notoriously difficult field. Already a destination, Comune opened last fall in the East Public development on Parsons Avenue.

Why They’re Tastemakers: By transforming a former adult bookstore into one of the most stylish, hip and in-demand Columbus restaurants, Galati and Maikut are enhancing a South Side neighborhood—and the impression diners have of vegetarian eateries.

Sandwich Bored: “You can only eat so many Northstar Burgers,” Galati says, addressing the scarcity of interesting meat-free sandwiches. He and Maikut initially thought they’d open a niche-filling vegetarian banh mi shop modeled after the original Cravings Café. That was just one of many ideas the two kicked around. Starting a food truck was another, but after some research, Galati wondered, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” The duo staged a few successful pre-restaurant pop-ups, but as Maikut half-jokingly says (he’s an accomplished home cook who’d never before worked in a professional kitchen), “We didn’t pretend we knew what we were doing, or that we could do it alone.”

Photo by Tim Johnson

It Takes a Commune: Reaching out to professionals led to a community of talented locals happy to advise the two on their evolving plans. That long list of mentors includes Kate Djupe of Service Bar and (formerly) The Commissary, Sang Lakhani and Jen Marlatt from The Table, Jonathan Olson of The Keep Liquor Bar, Greg Lehman of Watershed Distillery and Travis Owens of Behind the Glass beverage consulting (and bygone Curio). When the guys eventually met Ben Kanavel—whose fine-dining resume is impeccable—they knew they’d found their future chef. “That meeting was a lovefest,” Galati says. “He’s into most everything we are—like gardening and ethical, local sourcing—and he’s not even a vegetarian,” Maikut adds.

Seasons of Change: Upon first encountering the dilapidated edifice now housing Comune, Maikut remarked, “I have seen the future!” The interior, though, appeared to be stuck in a time warp. “You’d never design a restaurant like this in a million years—the quirky building dictates everything,” Galati says about Comune’s upstairs kitchen and downstairs cooler. Contours aside, the chic rehabbed space, playful yet sophisticated globetrotting food and creative “root-to-stem” cocktails have led to a routinely packed restaurant, proving Maikut correct. That same forward-looking vision will be on display come May, when Comune’s menu is entirely replaced. Fans needn’t agonize about losing go-to dishes and sought-after libations, though. As Galati says, “Wait till people see how good we can be when so much more stuff is in season.”

Joe Galati

Age: 35

Hometown: Mentor, Ohio

Previous gig: Creative services director at Victoria’s Secret

Recommended reading: “Setting the Table” by Danny Meyer; “On Vegetables” by Jeremy Fox

Always in his fridge: Miso

Favorite drink: Comune’s Negroni-esque We Got the Beet

Brook Maikut

Age: 39

Hometown: Lebanon, Ohio

Previous gig: Paint contractor

Recommended reading: “Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior” by Chögyam Trungpa

Always in his fridge: Corn tortillas

Prediction for the local dining/drinking scene: “Choosing quality over quantity, more brands with personal stories, thinking smaller”

comune-restaurant.com

Joe Galati and Brook Maikut