By Gabe Licht
DELANO, MN For some people, food is just fuel. For others, it’s a passion.
Charlie Williams said he sees both sides, but personally fits into the latter category.
He’s turned that passion into Bonde Bistro at the former Jukebox location at 203 Bridge Ave. E.
Bonde (pronounced booned) is Scandinavian for farmer and “being a bistro empowers the executive chef to put on the menu whatever they deem appropriate,” Williams said.
For Williams, that’s everything from Scandinavian fish, cooked delicately with subtle sauces; to American-style barbecue; to French sauces.
“What we want to do is cook really simple dishes take a pot roast, for instance, and make it the best pot roast anyone has ever had,” Williams said. “We want to make it something people can identify with. People can identify with pot roast, ribs, and smoked chicken. We want to make it the best it can be and make it our own, as in Bonde, by putting a twist on it.”
A large focus is on proteins, such as grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. Williams’ crew is working on perfecting the sides served with those proteins, he said.
The menu is starting with 15 to 20 items and will grow by two to four items per week “until we get a menu that fits us,” Williams said.
After serving only evening meals in the first week, Bonde Bistro will open for lunch at 11 a.m. Monday.
“We will have a lunch menu that’s different, with pulled pork, brisket, and different burgers,” Williams said.
Eventually, that menu will include a Juicy Lucy, but Williams said that item isn’t ready to be released just yet.
Williams said the Sept. 14 opening went well.
“The food has been really well-received,” Williams said. “We need to figure out where people’s taste buds are and make adjustments. I walk around and see how things are going. I really want people’s honest opinions. I really, really, truly want to know how the food tastes.”
Before the restaurant opened, people were calling to find out when that would happen.
The kitchen is staffed with a chef du cuisine who runs the kitchen, a daytime sous chef, an evening sous chef, and line cooks.
“All of them have been in the industry for years, some at higher profile restaurants like Mission and Free House,” Williams said. “I worked with a few of them at Butcher & the Boar. I’m very happy with my cooks and chefs.”
Bonde Bistro has 28 employees on staff and is looking to hire more.
Its owner grew up visiting Delano, and has lived in the town since 2001.
Before that, in 1997, he decided he wanted to become a cook and started cooking for sales meetings and graduation parties.
In 2007, he tried to sell his farm, but that didn’t happen until 2011. In that time, he met and married his wife, Tara.
“When we sold the farm, she asked if we had not gotten married, would I have gone to school? I said yes. She said, ‘Then, I want you to go to school,’” Williams said.
So, six months after getting married, Williams went to the Culinary Institute of America in New York, while his wife and step-daughter stayed in Delano.
After two years, he received a degree.
“I got an associate’s degree so, when I came back to work, someone would take me seriously,” Williams said. “People asked why I was quitting a high-paying job to do something considered entry-level. It must be passion, but it’s a little bit craziness, too.”
He admits he never planned to open a restaurant in Delano.
“But, this place became available, and I was frustrated enough with getting paid just above minimum wage and decided to go for it,” Williams said. “I invested everything I had, and this is where we’re at.”
He’s hoping the bistro, along with businesses like the recently opened breweries, can bring plans of revitalizing downtown to fruition.
“We’d like to have a part in that,” he said.
Starting Monday, Bonde Bistro will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., with the kitchen open 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, the kitchen will be open until 11 p.m., with the bar open until midnight. There will be appetizers between 1:30 and 5 p.m.
At some point in October, the plan is to add brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, and prefixed dinners on Sundays, by reservation only. For those meals, doors will open at 3:30 p.m., and meals will be served family-style beginning at 4:30 p.m., including a salad, entrée, and dessert.
“We’ll do that when we’re ready,” Williams said.