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Bon Me's brick and mortar restaurant opens in Kendall Square

Posted by Catherine Cloutier  February 22, 2013 10:12 AM

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This Japanese good luck cat has become a recognizable, non-official mascot of Bon Me. Each Bon Me location sports a cat; this one has not yet been named, and Bon Me is open to suggestions.

What started as an entry in Boston's Food Truck Challenge has grown into two food trucks and a brick-and-mortar restaurant serving fresh, Vietnamese-inspired cuisine to Boston and Cambridge.

In a little over two years, Bon Me's food trucks have become a recognizable brand in downtown Boston. With its baby blue truck often near Dewey Square and its bright yellow truck near Boston University and Copley Square, this mobile Vietnamese restaurant has attracted a clientele that is willing to follow the food.

After much success on wheels, Bon Me owners Patrick Lynch and Ali Fong excitedly opened their first brick-and-mortar restaurant at One Kendall Square on February 18.

The husband-and-wife duo agreed that their food trucks were an excellent way to launch their Bon Me idea and get a feel for how it would be received by Greater Boston. So far, their bold, fresh and fun food has been a hit.

"We had a restaurant in mind when we designed our contest," Lynch said. "The truck wound up being a tester for it . . . I'm glad we did the truck first, because it gave us a lot of time to practice. Moving around to different spots and getting to test it in all different locations was really helpful."

Lynch, an MIT graduate with a master's degree in urban planning, said that while the logistics of operating a food truck were more difficult on a day-to-day basis than operating a restaurant, the experience gave him and Fong the chance to develop a brand name and experiment with different marketing techniques to gauge customer response.

"I think we've been really happy with how we've been received. It's definitely been exciting," Lynch said. "We're hoping to be able to expand more quickly, but it's been a pleasant surprise that it's worked out so well."

Fong, who received her chef's training at New York's Culinary Institute of America, was the driving force that insisted the couple enter into Boston's Food Truck Challenge in late 2010. When Bon Me, along with two other businesses, won the challenge in early 2011, they figured they better invest in a food truck. They opened their first truck on April 4, 2011, and after a successful summer, the pair was able to open their second truck the following April.

Now, with the opening of their first brick-and-mortar restaurant, Fong is excited about the possibility of expanding the business even further. She said that the realities of serving food from a truck--such as equipment failures, weather uncertainties and a constantly mobile space--limited some of Bon Me's potential in regards to menu items.

"When we first opened, we made coffee blondie bars, but we discovered that the truck was never level," Fong said. She said that one side of the brownies would be two inches thick and the other would be cracker thin.

"Now, we have a real restaurant and we have ovens that are level so we can make them," said Fong.

Fong said that in the restaurant, the base meals--the Bon Me sandwich, rice bowls and noodle bowls--will stay the same, but the space allows them to expand their side options, including desserts. It will also allow Bon Me to expand their vegetarian and vegan options and allow for more specials.

Lynch said that while brick-and-mortar restaurants are Bon Me's goal, the food trucks play a key role in Bon Me's distinctiveness. The trucks were how the restaurant began, and he does not see that aspect of their business going away.

"I think the mix [of restaurants and trucks] is pretty good. It's exciting and it keeps things interesting," Lynch said. "Food trucks can go places where restaurants don't always make sense, and that's a unique part of our identity."

For more information on Bon Me's locations, menu and story, visit their website.

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