When Ali Fong, chef and cofounder of Bon Me, and her business partner, Patrick Lynch, entered a contest for food-truck concepts in 2011, she didn’t know she was making a life-changing plunge into entrepreneurship. Bon Me won that competition and began serving sandwiches, noodle salads, and rice bowls out of a bright yellow food truck in City Hall Plaza. Today, as it expands, Bon Me is evolving to include a more modular and composed menu.
The brand now includes eight food trucks, two carts, and seven restaurants around the greater Boston area, and is passionate about working with the community. With new chef-crafted items and more flavors every season, Bon Me is growing alongside an increasing American appetite for world foods.
Where does Bon Me’s take on Southeast Asian come from?
We primarily serve a fun take on Asian cuisine, specifically East and Southeast Asian. A lot inspiration for our menu comes from personal experience. I grew up in Boston and ate a lot of fusion food that my parents liked, which was Chinese and Vietnamese. As I grew up, I extended my palate and experienced other Asian cuisines. Bon Me’s main dish is a playful take on the bánh mì sandwich. It’s not traditional, but anyone you come across that knows a bánh mì will say, “Ah! That’s a bánh mì .”
What is one of your signature items that really spotlights Southeast Asian flavor?
The Namesake. It starts with the baguette. We have the sweet and sour carrot, daikon pickles, cilantro, cucumbers, and char siu pork—a sort of Cantonese roasted pork with our own twist that adds a savory fish sauce to the honey sweetness. That’s the dish we’ve had on our menu since day one, and people gravitate toward that if they’re at a food truck, maybe at a festival, because they want something to eat while they’re walking around.
Take me through one of your dishes and your thought process in developing it.
One of our dishes is the Korean-inspired Bon Me Bap bowl, a riff on bibimbap. I think the process starts with something I’ve had in my past, and then I think, “Well, what’s Bon Me’s take on it?” We keep our food very flavorful, but sometimes veer off in non-literal directions. The Bon Me Bap is recognizable because of the colorful veggies in a rice bowl and that delicious sauce that goes with it. Then we use roasted enoki mushrooms and baby kale, which you wouldn’t see in a traditional bibimbap bowl.
What do consumers want that you can deliver on?
I think consumers are looking for flavorful foods, fresh foods, and sometimes healthy foods. Asian food is oftentimes packed with vegetables and is very colorful, so it makes my job easier.
Do you find customers more often design their own meal or choose one that’s chef-crafted?
You know what, they do a little bit of both. Our customers who have been with us a long time appreciate newer dishes. For new customers, there’s a lot of interesting ingredients in our food that they may not be accustomed to, and sometimes it’s easier to have a dish where you don’t have to make any choices—something fun and exciting that you know we put a lot of effort into.
What is trendy right now?
I think in the fast-casual industry, Korean bowls and gochujang are trendy. Though we happen to have some things that are trendy, we don’t typically identify trends and then produce them. I am working on our fall/winter menu, and it comes from what I hope to eat and what’s been in my past.
What’s coming down the road for Southeast Asian fast casual and for Bon Me?
Bon Me is opening up new locations. We’re rolling out our new menu at all our locations. Then in the fall and winter seasons, we’re going to see some exciting noodle soup options, like pho. In terms of general trends, people are very global now. People have visited lots of countries, tried different foods, and they’re ready to taste new things. A dish that I rolled out recently, the Mala Bowl, is inspired by some of the flavors I had when I was visiting China in the Sichuan region. I had a lot of Sichuan peppercorn, ginger, bamboo shoots, and wood ear mushrooms. Those are ingredients you don’t typically find in fast-casual restaurants, but I think that people are looking for something different.