Restaurateur and Hospitality Manager Harpo Gooneratne
By Sarah Hannan
This is a story of a household brand that sprung from an elegant coffeehouse nestled in the shady neighbourhood down Flower Road, Colombo 7. Though the coffeehouse has been there a bit over a decade, the ambience and the food quality has not changed a bit. In fact they keep reinventing the look and feel of the place and the menu to refresh its patrons’ taste-buds.
Colombo’s highly-acclaimed Restaurateur and Hospitality Manager Harpo Gooneratne placed his trust in this coffeehouse just 10 years ago. Being his first outlet in the culinary trade, Harpo was determined to build a brand out of what is now known as The Commons.
“We set the trend in the coffee house culture in the country. Lots of people have gone through the doors of Commons within the past 10 years. It is an office, a home, a hangout spot regardless of the age groups, and most importantly it is a come-as-you-are place. The atmosphere of this space has been very informal and cosy; you walk in to Commons and you feel at home.”
Innovation and affordability
As a strong believer in innovation, Harpo along with his experienced staff has pioneered many creative ways to entice Sri Lankan taste buds. Commons took the forefront by introducing the Commons Rotti Cart, which is now a popular pick among Colombo diners. The services have been rendered at many a food fest and carnival in and around Colombo where a wide range of rottis are prepared to match the demand. Common Burgers under the brand umbrella too have added a twist to the dining experience and appeals to any age group.
He went on to say that he loves to maintain the informal atmosphere and sustain the homely feeling even through the food that is made available. The secret behind this silent giant is that the food prices too have been kept at an affordable rate, which appeals to the youth. In this manner, Commons has encouraged the younger generation to hang out more at this humble abode.
“I especially have to thank Kishani who has been with us since the beginning and her efforts to keep this place lively are deeply appreciated, not forgetting the rest of the staff and those who have been with us since the start of this business. Commons has become more of a household brand nowadays and it is proven by the repeat customers who have been patronising this place over the past 10 years,” Harpo further elaborated.
Developing the brand
With recent refurbishments, The Commons has opened up the space furthermore and added colour to the seating by adding brightly-coloured cushions. The menu has been redesigned to match the colourful ambience as well.
Explaining the latest developments at The Commons, Kishani stated that they had reintroduced several food items due to popular demand. “In order to sustain in the restaurant business, we have to always pay attention to our customer needs. If they keep demanding an item you have taken off the menu, you will have to add it back as they look forward to enjoying certain items. We had to add the Crab Pie back to the menu due to popular demand.”
Apart from that, Kishani says that there is a heavy demand for vegetarian dishes and the new menu features a wider variety of vegetarian dishes. Commenting on the breakfast menu, Kishani noted that although it was categorised as breakfast, the staff would be more than happy to prepare the meals on request any time of the day.
The new menu
So what’s new on the menu? Well, there is quite a lot and it is best to go and discover it yourself. As for me, I love the soups and salads the most, and tried the chicken mulligatawny from the soup kettle section. The piping hot soup is served with a dinner bun and a nob of butter. As I helped myself to a spoonful of the soup, I inhaled the aroma of infused herbs; the broth was very creamy and had the right amount of spices. The chicken and vegetables were cut into bite-sized pieces and were boiled to perfection.
Next on my mind was a salad and I took Kishani’s cue on it and ordered a chicken Hawaiian salad. It was a 10th anniversary special and according to her, it was a hit on the first day of introduction. When I set eyes on the salad, the reason for its popularity was apparent. The presentation gave me the sense of a tropical delight and worthy of its name it was full of pineapple pieces, boiled pieces of chicken, bell pepper, lettuce and various other spices.
For the mains, I ordered a chef’s special triple decker sandwich which was served with French fries. The sandwich comprises four slices of bread and the fillings on the different levels included lettuce, tomato, chicken ham slices, fried egg, button mushrooms, seeni sambol, pickled gherkins and mayonnaise. For a person with a smaller appetite, this sandwich is good for sharing.
I completed my meal with a ‘Strawberrilicious’ dessert made of strawberries, chocolate sponge cake and a decadent layer of chocolate cream. Keeping to its traditions, The Commons always serves up a generous portion when it comes to desserts.
The price range at The Commons is quite reasonable given the ambiance and the quality of service and the food that is available. It has maintained its high standards since inception and the welcoming culture and warm hospitality of the staff is a highlight here. The comments made by patrons of The Commons showcased at the centre of the entrance passage highlight the unforgettable moments spent at this coffeehouse.