With New Locations, Bon Me Makes a Push for the Suburban Dinner Crowd
By the end of the year, Bon Me’s business will have grown to a fleet of six food trucks, four brick-and-mortar restaurants, and one stall at the Boston Public Market, a vast expansion for husband-and-wife team Patrick Lynch and Ali Fong, who launched their concept on a single truck that hit the road four years ago.
In November, a Bon Me food truck will start frequenting Somerville, parking on the corner of College and Talbot avenues at Tufts University and continuing to cater to a customer set that’s been loyal to the business at its college campus and downtown spots.
But with the two upcoming brick-and-mortar restaurants, the first of which opens in the Fresh Pond neighborhood of Cambridge on Wednesday, September 9, Bon Me aims to expand its customer base beyond the Boston lunchtime crowd.
“We certainly have a lot of downtown customers, and we get feedback from people that would like to see us closer to home,” says Lynch. “It’s kind of nice to move out into a different area.”
The new Cambridge restaurant, located just a few blocks away from Alewife Station and the Fresh Pond reservoir, will cater to commuters heading home from Boston in time for dinner, as well as families living in the area. By the end of the year, another restaurant will open its doors in Chestnut Hill, where Fong grew up and then worked as a food service director for Brimmer and May School before launching Bon Me.
“Fresh Pond is pretty exciting—it’s kind of like a bridge between Cambridge customers we know really well and a slightly different, more suburban field. And Chestnut Hill—that’s definitely a lot more suburban than Fresh Pond, but we’re pretty confident about that area because we know it pretty well,” says Lynch. “I think our focus is certainly more on restaurants at this point.”
At the Fresh Pond restaurant, Fong, who’s the culinary force at Bon Me, will experiment with new menu items, which will be offered as dinner-only specials.
Bite-sized pieces of Japanese fried chicken, lightly battered and then marinated, will be available both as a filling for Bon Me’s signature sandwiches, rice bowls, and salads, as well as a side served alongside a dipping sauce. Sweet potato fries, made with house-made seasonings, will also be served with a dipping sauce. Lastly, the restaurant will offer a snack-sized Vietnamese take on the American hot dog, dubbed the Bon Me Dog.
“It’s a hot dog that has all the things that make our sandwiches special—pickles and onions and our signature spicy mayo,” says Fong. “It’s something that we actually offered at a special event a few years ago.”
In addition to new menu items, the company is also experimenting with offering workshops and seeking out collaborations with other local businesses. Workshops will be hosted at the Fresh Pond space—the first, which will take place at a to-be-announced date in the fall, will offer a lesson from Fong on making Bon Me’s popular deviled tea eggs. A collaboration with Evy Tea, a local cold-brewed tea business, will soon roll out at all locations—and more are in progress, including at Boston Public Market, where Bon Me now operates a stall among 40 permanent local vendors.
“That is in the works,” says Fong. “We talked to the [Boston Honey Company] right there, and we’re going to do a special dessert.”
The chance to experiment has grown as a result of Bon Me’s expansion and its owners’ subsequent shifting roles in the business. Lynch, who in the early days regularly worked on the food trucks, now mostly oversees seven managers, who in turn handle day-to-day operations and more than 150 employees. Likewise, Fong now has a commissary manager by her side, who runs the Bon Me commissary in Roxbury, giving her more time to work on menu development and other big-picture factors.
“Both of us were very busy and working all the time, and it’s calmed down a lot since we built a really good team around us,” says Lynch. “It’s a challenge to think about what’s next, but ultimately that’s the goal.”
Bon Me’s Fresh Pond location opens on Wednesday, September 9, at 201 Alewife Brook Parkway in Cambridge. The 22-seat restaurant will stay open until 8 p.m.