Laura Bonicelli has patiently waited to open Bonicelli Kitchen
For years Laura Bonicelli has searched for a home for her meal delivery business. Now, after a few trials and tribulations, the chef has found a permanent kitchen to serve her beloved cooking — it’ll even have her name on it.
Bonicelli will open her full-service restaurant, Bonicelli Kitchen, this summer on Central Avenue on the edge of the Windom Park neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis. Opening the restaurant — also the kitchen for her Bonicelli Fresh Meal Delivery business — has been a long process, following several relocations, a failed business deal and a successful Kickstarter.
Bonicelli began her meal delivery business almost nine years ago, cooking her eclectic mix of Mediterranean and other dishes for an equally eclectic mix of customers.
While she’s had to artificially limit her customers (not advertising, etc.) to keep up with demand, Bonicelli said her dozens of at-home diners have been a mix of seniors, professional athletes (“on every major team”), and cancer patients — even politicians. Her first long-term customer was Mark Dayton, whom she cooked for until he became governor, she said.
“He made it real because I didn’t really have any choice to quit,” she laughed.
Bonicelli has basically operated a full-service restaurant, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner to meal delivery customers, out of kitchens she had to share. She’s bounced around between kitchens in St. Paul, south Minneapolis and Kindred Kitchen in North Minneapolis. Without her own space, business was limited.
“The biggest challenge in past years was where I cook,” she said.
Last year Bonicelli moved forward with her restaurant plans, eventually opening a Kickstarter to build momentum and get a financial boost. She had found a location on Fillmore Street in Windom Park. After getting support from more than 250 backers, Bonicelli hit her crowdfunding goal with just a couple hours left. “This is the happiest update in the history of Kickstarter!” Bonicelli wrote to her supporters at the time.
But, months later, the deal went south and owners of the property weren’t able to hold up the lease. Her tone had changed.
“This has been a tumultuous several months. It has felt like our livelihoods were hanging in the balance and every week we would receive some new piece of the puzzle that made it look more and more like this wasn’t going to work,” she wrote in a statement.
But 2016 has gone differently for Bonicelli Kitchen so far. Bonicelli found a new location for the restaurant on Central Avenue in Windom Park, just blocks away from the previous location. The space at 1839 Central Ave. NE has an outdoor garden fronting the road, room for her delivery business and a kitchen she won’t have to share. It’s also a one-minute drive from the Northeast Minneapolis resident’s house.
“We’re just feeling really blessed. 2015 was a rough year and then to wind up in a better spot with a fully done kitchen and all of the equipment — except for my gelato maker — it’s kind of a miracle,” she told The Journal.
In the restaurant, Bonicelli plans to serve wraps, muffins, scones, soups, salads and sandwiches through counter and table services. Bonicelli Kitchen will also transition with a wine bar in the late afternoon with small plates. On weekends the restaurant will have larger, more formal brunches.
She said the food is made from scratch with as many local, organic and seasonal ingredients as possible.
“[My food] will always have a lot of Italian, French and Mediterranean notes to it, but I love Indian food, I love Thai food, so I’m kind of inspired by what the seasons bring and what I feel like eating actually,” she said.
But diners should count on finding some surprises on the menu.
“We were just having a conversation yesterday with one of the people who came in who said ‘there’s no pho on Central.’ I was like ‘maybe there will be,’” she said.
When it opens this July, Bonicelli Kitchen will have living walls with herbs and micro-greens growing amid diners. Bonicelli said she’s also excited about baking her own croissants, a three-day process that she’s learning as she goes.
Even if you’ve never had a Bonicelli-made meal over the years, the chef has given diners opportunities to taste of her cooking. Bonicelli Kitchen opened its outdoor garden with a select small plate, wine and beer menu during Art-A-Whirl weekend.
But with a permanent home for her cooking, Bonicelli is set to cook for plenty of new diners, no delivery necessary. The chef, who’s already cooked thousands of meals for the Twin Cities community, has had all the practice she needs.
“It’s the next step for me,” Bonicelli said.