At University Commons, we’re dedicated to making students’ time in Athens as fulfilling as possible. Part of that dedication includes spotlighting local businesses we’re sure our residents will love.

In this post we’ll focus on restaurant and bar Casa Nueva, with Casa employee Grace Corbin sitting in for an insightful Q&A.

Q. What is Casa Nueva’s history? How long has it been in Athens?

A. Back in the spring of 1985, a group of eight recently unemployed restaurant workers decided to form a worker-owned cooperative. Those workers had never run a business before. But they collectively had over 100 years of restaurant experience… and the determination to create their own livelihoods.

The Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (then Worker Owned Network) had also formed in the spring of 1985. Their goal was to promote community-based economic development in the region through the formation of worker-owned businesses. With their help, Casa Nueva’s founders developed a business plan, secured financing, and created the foundation of our current cooperative structure.

As the business has grown over the years, we have branched out beyond the restaurant. In 1987, we created our Casa Nueva Salsa and Limited Harvest product lines. And in October of 1993, we expanded to include a full service bar we call the Casa Cantina.

In 2003, the owners embarked on the largest expansion project in the corporation’s history: doubling the size of the Cantina and adding a second kitchen. The Bodega kitchen has allowed us to expand our menu options and appetizer selections. We also offer jarred salsa in many local retail locations.

Throughout our history, we have maintained a commitment to ownership opportunities for all our employees. Every employee of the corporation has the opportunity to become an owner. Before employees are accepted as owners, they are required to attend a number of workshops focused on cooperative and financial education to become fully aware of both their rights and responsibilities as owners.

Q. What do you feel helps Casa Nueva stand out from other local restaurants and bars?

A. We stand out from other local restaurants and bars because we are a co-op, and we have always been dedicated to supporting our local community and economy by buying locally and feeding our community.

We also don’t quite fit into one category; our music shows range from hip-hop to metal, and the vibe in the Cantina is always changing. Our art changes. Our menu changes. At one table you could have a group of students working on a project, and the next table could be hosting a child’s birthday party. Everyone is welcome at Casa all the time.

We also don’t accept tips! We pay our staff a living wage, so everything you receive (including great service) is included in the price! If anyone leaves some money on the bar or a table, we donate it to local non-profit organizations.

Q. What role do you feel Casa plays in the Athens community?

A. The role we play is Athens’ living room. We like for people to feel comfortable here, to know they are welcome. People come to work, to play, to meet new people, for family gatherings and special events. We have always believed in being an inclusive environment.

Q. Can you tell me about Casa’s dedication to local art and music?

A. Casa has always been dedicated to local art and music! We change our art monthly, and have featured many local (and some regional) artists, and the work is almost always for sale.

We host live music four nights per week, including Open Stage every Wednesday. We occasionally have touring bands play, but mostly we stick to hosting Ohio acts. Our weekly Open Stage is a great opportunity for local musicians to play in front of an audience and do some networking.

Q. What kind of special events should newcomers be aware of?

A. Newcomers will want to know about our monthly ‘80s Night with DJ Barticus, our previously-mentioned weekly Open Stage (every Wednesday night at 10!), and our monthly meet and greet happy hour events with our monthly non-profit. We also host free early shows at 6 p.m. most Saturdays and some Thursdays.

Q. What are your most popular food and drink offerings, or what might you recommend?

A. Our most popular items include anything from our Seasonal Menu (which changes every 4-6 weeks), our dinner platters, and the Huevos Rancheros from our breakfast menu. We serve breakfast until at least 2:30 p.m. every day!

Q. Do you have any favorite Casa Nueva memories to share?

A. I don’t know that I can pick a favorite memory! I’ve been working at Casa for about seven years, and have seen it all! Our dance nights are always a blast.

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