Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 8
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
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It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton

A SPECIAL PLACE: “I think of us as a European market, with specialties that include hard-to-find epicurean products. And our cheese! What I love about our store is that we service everything. We hand-cut the cheese for customers. Michel Lemmerling, our Taste Fromage (cheese master), continues to bring professionalism to Bon Appetit.” Bill Lettier (right), owner of Bon Appetit, is shown with former owner Michel Lemmerling, who is a member of Confrerie Brillat-Savarinne, the elite professional organization of cheese experts.

A Smorgasbord of Overflowing Choices Awaits Customers at Popular Bon Appétit

Bon Appétit is a true Princeton treasure. And it just keeps getting better and better!

Located in the Princeton Shopping Center, the gourmet food emporium was opened in 1967 by owners Carl and Virginia Andersen. The cosmopolitan flavor of Bon Appétit has been a factor in the store’s success from its earliest days. Mr. Andersen was from Denmark, Mrs. Andersen’s parents were Spanish and German, and they featured products from around the world.

Not only did Princeton’s sizable international population respond favorably, its home-grown citizens were just as enthusiastic.

In 1989, Michel Lemmerling became the owner, and brought with him an established family tradition of experience in the gourmet food business. “Lemmerling’s of Louvain existed for 102 years,” he explains. “My great-grandfather started it in 1887, and I was the fourth generation to be involved. It began as a cheese shop, and then gradually added other gourmet items.”

After nearly 20 years as owner, Mr. Lemmerling turned over the reins to Bill Lettier, who came on board in 2008. “Bon Appétit is an institution, and it’s deeply rooted in Princeton,” points out Mr. Lettier. Formerly a vice president at Dean & Deluca, the international chain of upscale gourmet markets, he was ready to have a new adventure.

“I saw this store as an opportunity. I am very passionate about what I do, and it’s an honor to be part of this.”

Pride of Ownership

Mr. Lettier has continued to emphasize the quality Bon Appétit has always exemplified. “I am quality-sensitive. It has to be good to be here, and we look forward to continuing to improve all the time. As owner/operator, you have to challenge yourself constantly. When you have the concept in your mind, how do you make that happen? How do you make this day better than the day before? What new dishes, what new products do you introduce? What new customer service can you offer?

“When you do what you love, it’s great,” he continues. “And there is pride of ownership. We challenge ourselves to be better all the time. The owner sets the tone, and we have a great staff.”

Mr. Lettier has made some additions to Bon Appétit’s operation and product lines. “I remerchandised and changed the layout somewhat. We put in additional registers, and added an espresso bar by the bakery. We also put in an open air beverage case, and new furniture in the cafe.”

The cafe is enormously popular for breakfast and lunch, he points out, with people arriving as soon as Bon Appétit opens at 7:30 a.m.

“When people come in the door in the morning, there is the aroma of fresh-baked baguettes and fresh-brewed coffee. One of our specialties is the baguette. Our customers tell us it the best baguette around. We bake them every half-hour throughout the day.”

Glenda Clack, a long-time Bon Appétit employee, orders all the bread products, including the very special Poilane bread flown in weekly from France. “All the baguettes, rolls, scones, croissants, and muffins are baked here, and they always sell out,” she reports.

Every Day

“Customers come early and have coffee and a scone or roll in the cafe. The Romeos (Retired Old Men Eating Out) come every week, and some customers even come in every day. We have a real history and tradition at Bon Appétit.”

Mr. Lettier intends to see that the store’s reputation will only get better. He is delighted that Bon Appétit has continued to attract as many customers as always, even in a difficult economy. “2009 was a very busy year, and we had 20,000 customers in December alone,” he says.

And he plans to keep it that way. Always in search of new items, he will travel to Italy in April to visit olive orchards, and to France in June. “We have just added two new products from Italy, a pasta sauce line, Praline, and Orsini pasta.”

Mr. Lettier is also very proud of Bon Appétit’s prepared food and meat department, which continues to offer a top-of-the-line selection. Especially popular is the Italian prosciutto and Fra Mani Salame Gentile, also from Italy, and Atlantic smoked salmon, which is the least salty, says Jose Rodriguez, manager of the meat department.

Only Acorns

“Other popular items are pheasant, pork, and duck paté, and Schaller & Weber weisswurst from Germany. And we are the only ones in New Jersey to have Jamon Iberico de Bellota, the Spanish specialty ham. It has a very distinct nutty flavor because the pigs only eat acorns.”

Customers also love the prepared foods — from baked quiche and grilled salmon to chicken pot pie, as well as all the salads, soups, and sandwiches.

Cheese is a true specialty at Bon Appétit, and at any given time, it can number 250 to 300 different cheeses from around the world. Michel Lemmerling, supported by an excellent staff, continues to oversee the cheese department.

Both imported and domestic cheeses are favored, notes fromagère Isabel Burlingham. “American cheeses have become very popular lately, including Beecher’s Flagship Reserve raw milk cheese from Washington State. Others are Pond Hopper goat milk cheese from Colorado, and Oldwick Shepherd raw milk cheese from northern New Jersey. In addition, Prima Donna is another favorite now. It’s Dutch and is similar to a aged gouda.”

Something Sweet

And, if you have an indefinable yet irresistible craving for something sweet, you have come to right place! There is a wide array of gourmet preserves, jams, jellies, and honey, gorgeously packaged cookies and biscuits, and of course, chocolate. From bars to boxes, Bon Appétit’s fine chocolates from around the world are an unending source of pleasure.

“We are also getting in many great Easter products,” adds Mr. Lettier. “We will have a 3-foot high chocolate Easter egg, which we will raffle off for fun. We will also have custom-made Easter baskets, as well as our custom gift baskets for any occasion.”

Then there is Bon Appétit’s bakery department, which is displayed in mouthwatering splendor. Cakes, tarts, pies, cookies, and strudels are just some of the choices available, and are as appealing to look at as they are to eat.

In fact, the entire store is a visual pleasure. Many people love to browse before they buy just to check out the displays. Whether it’s Bon Appétit’s own blend of beans or ground coffee, the assortment of teas, vinegars and oils, candied ginger, assorted nuts, olives of every kind, pesto — including pistachio and walnut, among others — or licorice from Australia, the superb selection never fails to please.

In addition, catering is an important part of Bon Appétit’s business, and a variety of events can be accomodated.

“We’re the kind of place that makes people feel good,” says Mr. Lettier. “The response continues to be outstanding. Better than I ever expected. People come in and actually thank us for being here. And long-time Princetonians tell me that the Andersens would be proud of the store today.”

Bon Appétit is open Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8 to 7. (609) 924-7755.

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