Bon Appetit, Princeton Shopping Center Mainstay, Celebrates 50th Anniversary as Gourmet Favorite
GOURMET SPECIALTIES: “I think of us as a European market, with specialties that include hard-to-find epicurean products. We have so many choices, and we are especially known for our cheeses from around the world, chocolate from all over, and our baguettes freshly baked all day. In addition, we have a great staff. We challenge ourselves to do better every day,” says Bill Lettier, co-owner of Bon Appetit (left). He is shown (from left) with his co-owner and wife Marta, and staff members JoAnn, manager Jose, Cristain, and Gio.
Everyone loves Bon Appetit! A true Princeton treasure, it is located in the Princeton Shopping Center and it just keeps getting better and better!
Opened in 1967 by Carl and Virginia Andersen, it featured a cosmopolitan flavor from the beginning. Mr. Andersen was from Denmark, and Mrs. Andersen’s parents were Spanish and German. The Andersens emphasized products from around the world.
Not only did Princeton’s sizable international population respond favorably, its homegrown citizens were just as enthusiastic.
Then, in 1989, Michel Lemmerling became the owner, and brought with him an established family tradition of experience in the gourmet food business from Belgium. “Lemmerling’s of Louvain existed for 102 years,” said Mr. Lemmerling. “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 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 Appetit is an institution, 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 as an opportunity. I am very passionate about what I do, and it’s an honor to be part of the Bon Appetit tradition.”
Mr. Lettier has continued to emphasize the quality Bon Appetit 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?”
Well aware of Bon Appetit’s distinguished history and special place in the Princeton community, Mr. Lettier notes that “The Andersens had established a wonderful business, and Michel Lemmerling had handled his products with care and respect. He was also a Taste Fromage (cheese master), and he was an expert with the cheese selection. We have more than 250 cheeses from around the world, and they are second to none.”
In the nearly nine years Mr. Lettier has been in charge, Bon Appetit has continued to evolve. Over time, he has made some additions to Bon Appetit’s operation and product lines. “We put in additional registers, and added an espresso bar by the bakery, with latte, cappuccino, etc. We also now make crepes to order, and we have fresh baked bread every 20 minutes. We sell 200 loaves every day! I love to see the look on someone’s face when they get a hot baguette. They just love them. We also have scones and croissants, which are very popular. Last year, we added Babeth’s Feast, special frozen entrees from France. These are high quality and in demand.”
In addition, in 2012, he introduced the Bon Appetit Café in Princeton Forrestal Village. Now a favorite there, it specializes in crepes, salads, sandwiches, and a variety of healthy fresh gourmet food with a European flavor.
“You want to stay cutting edge,” explains Mr. Lettier. “Early in my career, one of my mentors said, ‘You must stay in step, watch the market, and you can’t be rigid. Watch the customers, and let the store be what it wants to be.”
And the customers love Bon Appetit (both the Princeton Shopping Center flagship store and the Forrestal Cafe). They come from Princeton and the area, and some come in two or three times a day, reports Mr. Lettier. “It’s a very interesting clientele. We have unique shoppers here, who will often come in for one special item that they can’t get elsewhere. One lady comes in for chocolate button candies from the U.K., others like the scones and shortbread, and another comes in for the special Easter bread, Colomba Mandorlata allo Zabaione, from Italy.
“Another thing, licorice is very popular here. I am selling more licorice than ever, and we have it from all over — Finland, Australia, Holland, etc.
“Often, when customers have traveled and enjoyed something special abroad, they will come in and tell me about it, and I will try to get it. People in Princeton are well-traveled and well-educated. They have developed a quality food palate.”
Mr. Lettier is very proud of Bon Appetit’s prepared food and meat departments, which continue to offer a top-of-the-line selection. Especially popular are the Italian prosciutto, Spanish chorizo sausage, and Atlantic smoked salmon, which is the least salty says manager Jose Rodgriguez. There is a big variety of charcuterie, including salami, smoked beef, weiswurst, and specialty ham, among other choices.
The meat counter has been the scene of interesting international events, adds Mr. Lettier. “One time, a lady came in for some Hungarian salami, and it turned out that the customer next to her was also from Hungary. You never know where the next customer is from at Bon Appetit.”
Customers also love the prepared foods — from baked quiche and grilled salmon to stuffed cabbage, chicken pot pie, and pasta choices, as well as all the salads, homemade soups, and the specialty sandwiches. From breakfast sandwiches to hot paninis and wraps to signature sandwiches of all kinds, they never fail to please.
Then, of course, there is the cheese, which is a true tradition at Bon Appetit. Both imported and domestic cheeses are available, and there is something for every taste. Among the 250 to 300 choices, two current favorites are Fromage D’Affinois, a double cream brie, with black summer truffles, from France, which is only available in the spring; and Bethmale, a goat’s milk cheese from the Pyranees, said to be a favorite of Louis VI.
Is your sweet tooth irresistible? If so, Bon Appetit is the place to be. That the store is a “visual feast” is well-known, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the gorgeous displays of gourmet preserves, jams, jellies, maple syrup, candied ginger, beautifully packaged cookies and biscuits, and of course, chocolate. From bars to boxes, Bon Appetit’s fine chocolates from all over the world are an unending source of pleasure.
Bon Appetit’s bakery department, which is displayed in mouthwatering splendor, offers cakes, tarts, pies, cookies, strudels, and most recently, crepes made-to-order, including both sweet and savory. In addition, its selection of macarons and madeleines are a highlight for many customers.
For bagel lovers who crave the “real thing,” Bon Appetit offers genuine New York-style — kettle-boiled, plank-baked, and preservative-free bagels.
Don’t forget Bon Appetit’s selection of assorted nuts, oils, and vinegars; olives, caviar, and an unending variety of gourmet specialties.
Coffees (including Bon Appetit’s own blend of beans) and teas galore will satisfy every taste, and a current highlight is the special cold-brewed coffee.
Gift baskets are very popular items, and a wonderful selection of ready-to-go or custom-made baskets are available for a memorable gift for someone special.
Pride of Ownership
Prices at Bon Apptetit are at all levels, with items from 99¢ and up. Sandwiches and salads are in the $7.49 and $7.99 range.
Mr. Lettier points out that he feels a very strong “pride of ownership… you have to love what you do. I’m never satisfied. You can’t rest on your laurels. When I go home at night, I’m always thinking, ‘How can I make tomorrow better than today?’”
He is also very aware of the past as well as the future. As he observes, “Bon Appetit wouldn’t be here without those who created it and carried it on. The Andersens, Michel Lemmerling, our former manager Adriano DiDonato, our current manager Jose, and JoAnn, Gio, Chistain, and Rosa — all our outstanding staff.”
And whether customers are stopping in to take a special prepared food treat home after work, or coming throughout the day to sit down and relax in the enormously popular cafe, they are always Bon Appetit’s major focus, says Mr. Lettier.
“We are very proud of our high-quality customer service. We value our customers and think of them as guests, and do all we can to make them feel welcome. I truly treat people as I want to be treated. I love working with my staff and interacting with the customers. This is my great pleasure.”
Bon Appetit is open Monday through Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (609) 924-7755, Website: www.bonappetitfinefoods.com.