Home :: Bon C Bon wheels its meals all over the (local) map

Bon C Bon wheels its meals all over the (local) map

Bon C Bon wheels its meals all over the (local) map

Caroline Ross always enjoyed cooking for friends and family.

The difference now is that her circle has expanded to include hundreds of households on and around the island of Montreal.

Every Sunday, Ross and husband Michael Verrall get into separate vehicles and hand-deliver to clients hundreds of meals cooked up in the kitchen of their LaSalle business, Bon C Bon. They used to do it together, but the business got too big.

And yes, the corporate name was inspired by a refrain from The Stampeders’ chart-topping 1971 hit Sweet City Woman.

“In the Yellow Pages, they’ve got us under caterer but we’re really not. There’s actually no category for us. We’re not a restaurant. We’re a prepared-meal delivery service for the week, for people who are busy or who like to eat good food and don’t like to cook or are not inclined to cook,” said Ross, 50.

Bon C Bon started in the couple’s kitchen about seven years ago. Ross, then working for the Queen Elizabeth Hotel’s outside catering service, had a passion for trying out recipes, whipping up meals and sharing them with others, and before long found herself cooking for several acquaintances who lacked the time, talent or inclination to do it themselves.

“The way I show love is by feeding people,” said Ross. “I thought it was a hobby, until someone pointed out that it no longer was. It had taken on a life of its own. I registered (as a business) on April 1, 2008 … April Fool’s Day. I was pretty confident it would work. I knew what I had to charge because of my background in catering.”

Verrall, 59, a former tow-truck operator who met his wife when her van broke down, said he’s known Ross for 23 years “and this is what she was meant to do on this Earth, to cook for people.”

When the business outgrew their home kitchen, even after they’d purchased the “biggest home fridge you can buy,” Ross set up shop in the kitchen of a former restaurant on Mackay St. That sufficed for a year. Then Bon C Bon headed off to another former restaurant in Dorval. When that building got targeted for demolition two years ago, they moved again, this time to 1,300 square feet formerly occupied by a dollar/electronics story on Airlie St. in LaSalle.

“When we went to get the permit, the city advised us we had to designate at least one-third for retaiI, because it’s zoned commercial. So now we have a (retail) storefront,” Ross said.

Most of the business, however, comes from the Internet.

Using the company’s website and emailed menu updates, clients can peruse each week’s offerings and prices. They have until noon Wednesday to place their orders. Ross then goes shopping, knowing how many kilos of everything she needs to buy, and the prepping and peeling starts. Fridays are spent on logistics, cooking and preparation, Saturdays are for packaging and counter pickups, and Sundays are for home delivery.

Specific zones of the island have designated delivery windows. It’s free if clients reach or exceed the order minimum.

The meals are fresh, not frozen, in regular and reduced portions, with the menu focused on items that will keep their taste for days while refrigerated and need only to be reheated. This week’s specialties include tilapia with herb butter medallion ($12.75 for a single regular portion), pork tenderloin piccata ($12.75) and braised ham mac and cheese ($11.25).

“This is real food, what you’d make yourself if you had the time. We change it up every week, to keep it fresh for our customers,” Ross said. “We take people all over the world … Thai, Indian, Greek, French. It’s part of our mission to get families sharing a meal around the dinner table a couple of nights a week. There are benefits to that.”

Meeting the clients face to face on delivery way is a useful and gratifying way to gauge customer satisfaction, said Verrall, the company’s chief financial officer “and grill master,” who fits longs hours at Bon C Bon around a full-time job in the transportation industry.

He “lives, breathes and sleeps Bon C Bon like I do, but he’s only available to us on weekends,” Ross said.

“In the towing business, nobody was happy to see you. It meant their car’s broken down,” Verrall said. “Here we’re bringing a quality product, enriching people’s lives by giving them the gift of time. One parent isn’t glued to the kitchen or obliged to go shopping. We have customers tell us every week they don’t know what they’d do without us. I enjoy that part. It’s why I haven’t let that go.”

Their clients are all over the (local) map, ranging from busy families and single professionals to seniors and students. One woman has ordered from them 51 weeks a year (they’re closed between Christmas and New Year’s) since they started seven years ago.

A mother from Indonesia orders meals from Bon C Bon for her son, who is studying at McGill. Many out-of-towners whose elderly parents still live in Montreal use the service to make sure they’re eating right.

It’s also a way to ensure someone’s checking on them regularly. Ross recalls that when one elderly client failed to answer the door for her delivery, she notified security in the building, and medical assistance was summoned. Too weak to open the door, the woman had gone into diabetic shock.

Some clients order a week’s worth of meals, some treat themselves (and their families) one night a week.

Sales have grown steadily since the start, and the target for this fiscal year is about $250,000, Ross said. They now produce 300 to 400 meals a week, with the usual order between $80 and $90 and the average cost per meal about $8.50. The company is up to four employees, including the two founders.

“Quality of the food is key. Otherwise, we wouldn’t still be here,” said Verrall, who envisions “a fleet of delivery trucks” and “more than one delivery day” in the company’s future.

Ross said the hardest part so far has been “learning to be a jack-of-all trades. Cooking is the easy part. It’s creative. It’s artistic. It’s my passion. The business end, keeping it affordable with food prices going up, that’s more challenging. It’s been an uphill learning curve, but we’re getting there. We won’t get rich doing this, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

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