Common Bond for Carrabba

Houston restaurant king buys city's best bakery with promise of love and attention

Houston restaurant king buys H-Town's best bakery with promise of love

Common Bond Johnny Carrabba Brad Wilcox Drew Gimma Jillian Bartolome
Common Bond's Bradley Wilcox, Drew Gimma and Jillian Bartolome with Johnny Carrabba, second from right. Photo by Eric Sandler

One of Houston's most accomplished restaurateurs has undertaken a big new project for 2016. Johnny Carrabba and business partner George Joseph have purchased Common Bond bakery from original owners Brad and Kathy Sanders. 

"I’m very excited about the potential of this thing," Carrabba tells CultureMap. "You have to understand, I’ve never bought a company. This is the first company I’ve bought into. I think it’s coming at the right time in my career, because I’m experienced enough to handle the people side of it."

Carrabba has known founding chef Roy Shvartzapel from his days as a server at Carrabba's — before he began to travel the world and build his Michelin-starred resume. Although he declined Shvartzapel's invitation to invest in the business that would ultimately become Common Bond, Carrabba says he's been a fan of the high profile bakery from the beginning.

"I was here on opening day. I kept coming in because I’m intrigued with it, and I love the product. I think it’s the best product," he says.

He also notes that he intends to bring some hands-on "love and attention" to the business. "I’ve never been an investor. I’m not the kind of investor to say let me put a team together and I’ll see you next year. I need to come in here and operate."

Towards that end, Carrabba and company president Hieu Ngyuen have been at Common Bond every day for the past week to observe the business and begin making plans to improve it. They've already leased 20 additional parking spaces at a nearby lot to alleviate one of the bakery's biggest problems.

Next on his list is tackling the line.

"It’s hard to just come in here and grab a baguette and hit the road. You have to wait in that line," Carrabba notes. "My forte is really people, bringing them together, providing them the wherewithal to perform their art. And I also think my forte is organization and systems. I think this place needs a little organization and some systems."

Carrabba says his other focus is on finding a commissary space that will allow executive chef Jillian Bartolome and head baker Drew Gimma to increase capacity. Currently, all production is done in the 3,400-square-foot restaurant's kitchen. Moving to a larger space would give Common Bond the opportunity to be better supplied throughout the day (just trying buying a croissant at 3 pm) and sell more bread to restaurants on a wholesale basis. 

"We have a great product. Our executive chef Jill and Drew who does the breads for us, they’re the most talented people I’ve ever met. I want to enable them to grow," Carrabba says. "Naturally, I’d like to open another location, but I don’t even worry about that right now. I want to solidify my team here and give them the tools, and this might be a little literal, to perform their art."

Whether Carrabba's involvement ultimately leads to additional locations remains to be seen, but the union of the successful restaurateur with some of Houston's most talented bakers and pastry chefs can only mean good things for diners. If nothing else, at least the line at Common Bond should move a little more quickly in 2016.