As 2-year anniversary nears, East Lawrence’s Bon Bon! eyes expansion

photo by: Journal-World photo/Chad Lawhorn

Owners of Bon Bon in East Lawrence hope to expand with a permanent kitchen in place of the food truck that they use. The food truck and covered patio, which owners hope to enclose, are shown in this July 30 photo.

The popular East Lawrence bistro Bon Bon! can be a bit Brr, Brr during the winter. That’s a prime reason the restaurant has filed expansion plans that include a new kitchen and a new enclosed seating area.

The restaurant at 804 Pennsylvania St. currently uses as its kitchen a food truck that is parked next to the old stone building that houses the actual restaurant. The plans also seek permission to enclose a covered patio that sits between the food truck and the restaurant building.

Weather is a big reason for the request, said Simon Bates, a co-owner of the restaurant.

“Our biggest reason for doing this is our staff,” Bates said. “The winters slow down so much for us. We want to stay busy year-round.”

The restaurant has a staff of about 35 people currently, but the staff size shrinks considerably as the weather turns colder and the restaurant’s approximately 60 outdoor seats are used less.

By adding walls and a heater to the existing covered patio area, Bates is estimating the restaurant will gain another 30 seats that are available all year round.

As for the request to add a new kitchen, that also is weather-related. The truck can be a problem both in the winter and the summer. Bates and his wife and business partner, Codi Bates, came up with the idea of using a food truck for a kitchen when it became clear that the old stone building was so small that it wouldn’t be able to accommodate a commercial kitchen and an adequate dining area. Instead, the couple had a 33-foot former U-Haul truck renovated into a mobile kitchen. It sits beside the patio area.

“The truck was a fun idea, but it definitely has some seasonal issues,” Simon Bates said. “It can be pretty hot in the summer and pretty cold in the winter. The staff members are good sports about it.”

Unexpected success also has played a role in the expansion plans. The restaurant will mark its two-year anniversary in October, and it started with fairly modest goals. The Bates own The Burger Stand in downtown Lawrence, and they wanted an outlet to cook food — besides burgers — that they really love.

“This whole project started out as a fun, neighborhood bistro, but we have been a little bit more successful than we expected,” Simon Bates said. “But that comes with some of these space problems.”

Oddly, Bates said he thinks some of the restaurant’s success has come from the fact that they didn’t put success at the forefront of their plans.

“It is just a passion project,” Bates said. “We are just doing what we love instead of designing everything around trying to get sales. I think people are catching on to that.”

What does that look like in terms of a menu? It depends on when you come. The restaurant changes menus about eight times a year, but there are a lot of day-to-day variations depending on what the garden near the bistro is producing. Right now, the menu has items like shrimp and grits with roasted corn, a cold noodle salad that includes cucumbers, zucchini, carrots and other vegetables and herbs, and several dishes that include “garden pickles.”

“We are having a great time,” Bates said.

Bates said customers shouldn’t expect major changes to the menu philosophy once the restaurant has a permanent kitchen. Because of site limitations and some historic district requirements, the new kitchen isn’t proposed to be much larger than the food truck.

The historic nature of the site also means the project must still win some City Hall approvals before it can move forward. The building that Bon Bon! is located in is a historic structure. Back in the early 1900s, the stone building was used as a warehouse for ammunition and gunpowder that was sold by the adjacent Poehler Mercantile Co. The expansion project is required to go through a Historic Resources review process at City Hall. Bates said that process is underway. He said he hopes to win approval and occupy the new space sometime this winter.

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