Fort Worth Super Chef Weathers Coronavirus Shutdowns, Joins the Protestors and Adds a Major Name — The Amazing Adventure

June 18,2020

See full Paper City Magazine article by Courtney Dabney here.

Jon Bonnell has been one busy chef during coronavirus. When the pandemic shutdowns were first announced, he sadly had no choice but to downsize staff quickly. But his speedy adjustment to packaging curbside family takeout meals has drawn long lines for nearly three months now.

The owner and executive chef of Bonnell’s Restaurant Group, which includes his landmark Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine, Water’s Restaurant and Buffalo Bros., has been in full pivot mode for months.

Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine reopens for dine-in this Friday June 19 at 5 pm and Bonnell’s Water’s Restaurant, the fine seafood spot in Sundance Square, reopened just last weekend.

Water’s was welcomed back by protesters, who were disrupting the patio diners so Bonnell calmed the crowd by showing his solidarity with Black Lives Matters, reminding them that he had joined the marches himself only days before to show his support. His classy move was not only touching, it elicited hugs from some.

And with Bonnell’s dining room finally reopening Friday, it seems only fitting (though no less painful) that a power loss this week cost him his entire refrigerated inventory. The hits just keep on coming.

“I didn’t train to be an endurance athlete for nothing,” Jon Bonnell tells PaperCity Fort Worth. This is no joke ― the chef has both entered and completed a few Ironman triathlons.

But there is good news to report as well. Bonnell’s Fine Texas has hired a familiar face to serve as its new executive chef ― Charles Youts, who has spent the past 20 years of his career as executive chef of The Classic Cafe in Roanoke, Texas.

The first clue that Youts had made the move was the appearance of above ground gardens being neatly installed in the side yard at Bonnell’s. Chef Youts is, after all, a master gardener, famous for his nightly specials featuring whatever happens to be in season ― fresh from his “Garden Pantry” to the table.

“We began talking about this long before coronavirus hit,” Bonnell says. “We’ve been friends for over 20 years, and I’ve always respected him and loved his dishes. My role has really shifted to that of restaurateur, juggling so many restaurants and caterings, that we needed a steady hand to run the kitchen at Bonnell’s, much as Anthony Felli does as executive chef of Water’s.”

Curbside Power
Jon Bonnell says he’ll still be visible, but will be bouncing around from restaurant to restaurant. They had to ride out the coronavirus closures, and as soon as restaurants were allowed to reopen dining rooms with spacing guidelines, the time was right for Youts to make the move.

“We want to get back to our roots and the garden to table concept will help us do that. Charles will take Bonnell’s in a great direction,” Bonnell tells PaperCity.

This Fort Worth restaurateur notes that the curbside meal service really kept them afloat. The unique location of Bonnell’s parking lot provided adequate ingress and egress for lines of cars for pickups.

“We are not going to abandon that model just yet,” he says. “Curbside pickup for our family meals will begin at 4 pm and Bonnell’s dinner service (lunch is not restarting just yet) will begin at 5 pm.”

The restaurant has been fitted with plexiglass barriers between tables, and sanitizing stations have been added. Bonnell’s will relaunch with a limited menu to ramp back up — and that will be available to-go as well.

Charles Youts says the transition has been a big change, going from his much smaller kitchen at The Classic Cafe.

“We have the same vision. We want to support local and my vision has always been to grow as much as you can,” Youts tells PaperCity.

The personalities of Bonnell, Youts and Felli are similar as well. “We all feed off each other. All we want to do is help our neighborhood as much as we can. We’ll be introducing game dinners and wine dinners again to give people the experience they’ve been missing,” Youts says.

The new hours for Bonnell’s are: bar opens at 4 pm; curbside pickup runs from 4pm to 5:30; dine-in dinner service begins at 5 pm. And as usual, Jon Bonnell never stops going.