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A Taste of Community at Campagnolo

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 6.25.48 PMIt’s hard to believe, but there was a time in the early aughts when Midtown was a shadow of its current self. There was an almost palpable lack of cohesion, and very few places for locals to gather and call their own.

Maureen Kalmanson was one of the many who helped to fill that void. She spent several years in the restaurant industry before 2008, most notably with PEASANT Bistro in downtown Atlanta. In fact, it was during her tenure at PEASANT when the opportunity to build her own concept hit.

“I wanted to bring something to Midtown that was fresh and more upscale, and to support the gay community in a neighborhood I love,” she explains. “A building became available in 2012, so I jumped on it. And because I love Italian food, wine, and culture, I decided the concept would be Italianthemed, named Campagnolo—Italian for ‘peasant’.” But the building that she chose had a dark history; before Campagnolo, it housed several failed restaurant concepts. Still, Kalmanson was undeterred. “As far as I could tell, the restaurants before Campagnolo didn’t do much with the building—just very minor fixes. I set out to gut it and return it to its original character. I didn’t buy that the space was cursed.” In retrospect, that renovation might have sealed success for Kalmanson, but she remembers people being very skeptical. “Lots of folks thought it was a doomed project,” she remembers. Yet it survived, and by more than just eking out a marginal success. In fact, Campagnolo thrived.

In the last three years, it has become a neighborhood gathering space without compare—the kind of Cheers-esque social hub that Midtown so desperately needed. The food—a seasonal menagerie with Italian roots—plays a large part in the social life of the restaurant. Whether indulging in brunch, dinner, or a top-bar cocktail, guests can gather around a meal or a drink just about any time of the day. The evident success of Campagnolo was by no means the end of Kalmanson’s fairy tale culinary story, however. Just a year later, in 2013, she opened the doors of Henry’s Midtown Tavern. And just like Campagnolo, the opportunity took her by surprise. “I happened to see that the space on the corner of Tenth and Juniper was for rent—and oh my, what a lot! There were beautiful trees, and I thought to myself, there should be a beautiful deck right there, too.” And so another concept was born, this time anchored by a gorgeous outdoor dining and drinking space. The menu, a departure from Campagnolo, kicked classic pub fare up a few notches with high-quality ingredients and plenty of TLC. Cases in point: the “Tuna Pizza” with silky tuna generously mounded on naan; and the Tavern Wings, brined for 24 hours before frying. Rounding out the menu are the usual, but upscale, suspects: burgers, salads, grilled items, and steaks.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 6.26.02 PMJust like Campagnolo’s crowd, Henry’s neighborhood regulars can often see Kalmanson in the mix during lunch or dinner. “People recognize me and I greet them with a hug, and we chat about their lives. I think it’s just part of the community we’ve built here, and part of the incredible warmth of the neighborhood that I’ve felt from the very beginning. That’s the part of this business that I really like—making people happy. I live for it.” Not surprisingly, Kalmanson has opened the doors and kitchens of both Campagnolo and Henry’s for community causes of every ilk—from fundraisers for non-profits like Lost ‘n’ Found Youth, to mixed fun-and-fundraising affairs for organizations like Angel Among Us Pet Rescue. The latter is a particularly fitting cause, as Henry’s is named after Kalmanson’s dog. And while the very happy restaurateur is constantly buzzing in the community she’s built at Campagnolo and Henry’s, she does occasionally have time to relax and dine off the clock at both concepts. Her comfort picks? “At Campagnolo, it would have to be the Lasagna Matta—a messy bowl of lasagna noodles made in-house with fresh Bolognese, nutmeg-spiked béchamel, and mozzarella all crisped under a broiler. At Henry’s, I change my go-to depending on what mood I’m in. Sometimes I crave the Kale Salad with Green Goddess dressing, feta, avocado, and salmon, and sometimes I want nothing but the Patty Melt heaped with melted cheese and onions.” If you find her lingering over any of these delicious dishes, don’t be shy; take a seat and say hello—she’ll love it.