A new business run by two Billings restaurant veterans should be serving up innovative dishes from the old George Henry’s building as soon as Sept. 10.
The new eatery, called Commons 1882, will specialize in locally sourced food. It will be anchored by seasoned chefs Jason Corbridge, the former co-owner of Café DeCamp, and Henry Kennah, who has a long career in Billings, most recently at Jake’s Steakhouse.
“The foundation of this place is built on their backs,” said Greg Oliphant, a Billings businessman who will be the restaurant’s general manager.
The Fourth Avenue space has sat vacant since short-lived restaurant Benson’s folded last summer.
The original building was constructed by Richard Crowe seven years before Montana statehood and was occupied by the Crowe family until the 1980s when George Henry’s moved in.
Commons is the first eatery in the space that will have a license to serve wine, beer and spirits without food, and the focal point of the space will be two bars stocked with exotic and hard-to-find spirits, local brews and a full wine menu.
The interior is getting a major face-lift. Walls will be shifted to accommodate a walk-in refrigerator, and a dumbwaiter will send food from the kitchen to be served at an upstairs bar.
The menu at Commons will reflect the backgrounds of Kennah and Corbridge, eclectic and local. The two have known each other for many years and spend a lot of time discussing foods.
“That’s pretty much all we talk about,” Corbridge said.
Corbridge hopes the core philosophy of DeCamp, which had only 27 seats and currently houses Crazy Mary’s Fish and Chips, will carry over into the much larger space that accommodates 135 inside and 33 outside.
In 2012, Corbridge and his now ex-wife planned on expanding DeCamp to a location on Montana Avenue, but the divorce put off their plans and DeCamp folded.
He spent the next several years working in other Billings restaurants, and began talks with Oliphant about starting their own place.
The pair had considered having Corbridge as executive chef at the Montana Avenue restaurant and Kennah run the kitchen at the old George Henry’s. But the Montana Avenue building’s owner postponed needed remodeling indefinitely, making the location unsuitable.
“We decided to make Commons a single effort, and not worry about two restaurants,” Corbridge said.
The concept should work well, he added. “There will never not be a chef in the kitchen.”
Both are interested in developing menu items and will look to improve dishes each time they’re cooked, giving diners a unique chance to eat the same ingredients cooked differently, Kennah said. “If we keep working on the dish, it might not resemble what it started as.”
They agree their cooking styles make for an excellent pairing, and they give each other positive critiques and subjective analysis, Corbridge said. “We’ll do nothing but complement each other.”