Just like mama made!
Nothing speaks more to the idea of good home cooking like Bonnie Lu’s Country Café. Nestled in the quaint town of Ojai, those who frequent the diner may describe the experience close to that of coming home to mom’s house for a delicious home cooked meal, and it all begins with the welcoming feel of the diner’s inviting red doors.
Once inside, the aroma of fresh cooked ingredients being prepared in the kitchen and the sight of patrons nestled comfortably in their seats with tables adorned in 50’s-style pink formica continue the welcoming trend. The greeting that you receive from the staff is so charmingly cheerful and genuine, its effect will have you believing that you are saying hello to an old friend for the very first time. Not only are the staff some of the friendliest people you will come across, but their ability to work together like that of an old Italian family restaurant is sure to impress.
The assignment of one server to a table does not apply here. Your coffee may receive refills from every member of the staff if need be. They work together as a team to provide the best possible service. Just as long as there is no whining, to which the front of the menu playfully notes there is a $5 charge for such conduct. The homey and nostalgic atmosphere of Bonnie Lu’s is certainly very friendly, very comfortable and very intentional by its spunky owner, Jenny Newell.
Jenny has called the city of Ojai home since she was 10 years old and, even though she may not have originally set out to be the vivacious restaurant owner that she is today, she has successfully run one of Ojai’s favorite eateries.
Based on her first professional endeavor as a hair stylist, anyone would have expected her to spend her time chopping hair rather than tomatoes. But alas, life had a different plan for her, and she took a job washing dishes, which eventually led to serving tables at local restaurants. Her kind and fun disposition, which she credits as a trait from her mother, made it easy for her to establish close relationships with several of her industry co-workers, and one evening an opportunity made its way to Jenny.
Jenny, her brother, Niles, and a few close friends/colleagues were offered the opportunity to take over the lease of a local establishment. They jumped in, and began planning their future endeavor – a restaurant. They collectively had a very clear vision of what they wanted the restaurant to be and, with the help from family, were able to scrape together the money needed to take over the location and begin the remodel.
Not long after the ink had dried on the contracts and the remodeling process had begun, Jenny and her family received the devastating news that her mother, Bonnie Dohrn, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. “It was a bonding and precious moment for us when we all agreed to name the restaurant Bonnie Lu’s in honor of our mom,” said Jenny. “From there we developed the tagline for the diner, ‘Good fixings with a smile.’ It just seemed to flow and capture the beautiful person that she was.”
Bonnie had worked for the Ojai Police Department and was well known throughout the community. Needless to say, the news of her diagnosis shocked the community. On April 22, 1995, the town rallied together to give a huge BBQ fundraiser for Bonnie and her family so that she could fulfill one final wish before her passing. During the event, the city declared April 22nd as “Bonnie Dohrn Day,” and the proceeds from the benefit were used to take Bonnie and her family on vacation to Las Vegas. Throughout the years, Jenny and her staff at Bonnie Lu’s have continued to honor her mother by hosting fundraisers for a chosen family in the community suffering from a similar diagnosis. In fact, t-shirts from prior Bonnie Dohrn Day fundraisers have been made into a giant quilt hung in the diner.
The celebration of Bonnie’s life is transposed onto the current menu with her famous Bonnie’s Steak Sandwich. Patrons can also sample favorite dishes of loyal customers, family and friends by choosing a menu item named after them, including Felicia’s Reuben, Amanda’s BLT and the original menu mastermind, Nile’s Monte Cristo. “The idea of adding menu items named after our amazing clientele began as a very light-hearted way of saying thanks,” Jenny said. “Everyone who works here is a part of our lives both inside and outside the restaurant. You would need a wall to draw all the ways we are connected. From childhood friends, to family, we’re are all connected.”
Being a family owned and operated business for more than 100 years, Jordano’s partnership with Bonnie Lu’s seems only fitting as the two companies work together to provide the freshest ingredients to their customers. “We’re an independently owned establishment,” said Jenny. “So it feels right to be working with an independently owned foodservice distributor like Jordano’s.”
As important as it is to connect with the right foodservice provider, it’s equally important to connect with the right account executive – insert Ryan Connell. “Over the years, Ryan has made sure that we have everything we need to keep our business running smoothly,” said Jenny. “Anyone who has a long-term relationship with their account executive knows the value of that partnership, and Ryan is only the second account executive we’ve worked with in the last 20 years.”
Ryan, along with so many others, has been embraced by the Bonnie Lu’s family. For Jenny’s 50th birthday bash, Ryan teamed up with a group and cooked all the food for the event. Secretly, he even took photos to capture the occasion, later surprising Jenny with a photo book of the event. “Yeah he’s a keeper,” she said with a smile. “Now that’s how a mutual business relationship should be, and we’re forever grateful.”
For more information about Bonnie Lu’s, visit their Facebook page.