Common Ground Restaurant returns to Brattleboro

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(Host) Until it closed several years ago, the Common Ground Restaurant in Brattleboro drew diners from near and far.

They came as much for the restaurant’s liberal politics as for its food.

Now the Common Ground has reopened.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, a few changes have been made to assure its survival.

(Zind) An employee from the Common Ground’s earliest days once told the story of how, as a protest against Vermont Yankee, the restaurant refused to pay its electric bill.

Predictably, the power was shut off and the bill had to be paid.

It’s a good story, and whether or not it’s true, it says something about what kind of place the Common Ground was.

In its heyday, the Common Ground was a local landmark and an international symbol of the counterculture. Its reputation for basic, wholesome food served with a generous helping of liberal politics drew diners literally from around the world.

But by the time it closed several years ago, patrons had abandoned the restaurant, complaining of irregular hours and poor quality food.

Now the Common Ground has reopened – with a few differences.

Before, decisions were made by a consensus of worker owners. The number of people involved made the process chaotic and slow. Now a smaller group will make decisions.

(Smith) “We still are a worker run collective and worker owned, but the final vote will really come down to the board of directors.”

(Zind) That’s Sabrina Smith, the manager of the Common Ground. The board of directors is one of the new features of the just reopened restaurant. Smith says the management changes will mean better, more consistent food quality.

She says both the space and the menu will be recognizable to old patrons. Cashew burgers and home made granola are still there.

(Smith) “We’re still serving the people’s meal, which is the very first meal that the Common Ground ever served, and that’s a self service soup and salad and homemade bread.”

(Zind) The restaurant will also continue the free community Thanksgiving dinner that it hosted for so many years.

The Common Ground used to wear its liberal politics on its sleeve. There were always piles of cause-oriented pamphlets and flyers. A few years ago, there was a poster on the wall that demanded ‘U.S. out of North America!’

Smith says the new Common Ground isn’t as overtly political.

The restaurant’s primary cause is supporting local agriculture.

Smith herself is a bridge to the Common Ground’s past she spent five years working there in the 1990s.

She says old patrons have been stopping in since the restaurant reopened.

(Smith) “A number of them have come up the stairs and said, ‘Wow! This is the old Common Ground. It’s back.”

(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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