November 27, 2019

Bon Appétit Owner Sees Bright Future Amidst Flurry of Social Media Rumors

By Donald Gilpin

Bon Appétit may be in a transition mode, with the prospect of a new owner joining forces with current owner Bill Lettier, but social media warnings of “destined to close” and cries of decline seem unwarranted.

Earlier this week, Bon Appétit, a Princeton institution for more than 50 years, became the topic of a Facebook post claiming “bare shelves and none of the usual piles of holiday chocolates and food gifts,” employees warned of a “new buyer or closure,” and “the owner for a decade has not invested in the space, which is in disrepair.”

Numerous Bon Appétit fans and a few detractors weighed in in response. “Go-to place for holiday treats,” “heartbreaking,” “one of the few places I could find maple sugar candy,” and “part of modern Princeton history” were among the comments, along with some criticisms of items lacking freshness.

At the store in its prime corner location in the Princeton Shopping Center at lunchtime on Monday, there were dozens of customers ordering various foods to take out or eat in the cafe area. Others were making holiday orders. The shelves were reasonably stocked with a variety of gourmet items, a few looking like holiday attractions. Not exactly full or overflowing, and there were a few empty spaces, but far from “bare.”

“Don’t worry,” said Lettier expressing his optimism for Bon Appétit’s future in a phone conversation late Monday afternoon. “We’re here in full force. Come on in. We look forward to seeing you.”

Lettier, who said he is not on Facebook, explained that Bon Appétit’s lease had expired in July this year but that the landlord, Edens, a real estate firm based in Boston, had been very helpful in working towards a new agreement.

One of Lettier’s proposals was to give up space where the cafe tables are located in order to reduce the rent, but the current plan is to keep the Bon Appétit store as is.

A conference call is scheduled for Monday with Lettier, the landlord, and a prospective new partner, “a well established Princeton individual” who is an active buyer and wants to become a partner. Lettier looks forward to an extended lease, a partner, and new, favorable terms.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity,” Lettier said. “It will be nice to have a partner, particularly helpful with support. We’re both optimistic about future prospects.”

Lettier added that the trucks with holiday products would be arriving Tuesday, and by early Tuesday afternoon, as shoppers again filled the store, the shelves were mostly well stocked, and piles of boxes were in the process of being unpacked.

“Catering orders are at an all-time high,” Lettier said. “We have a tremendous number of turkey orders.”

Lettier did mention the challenges to food retailers of the winter season with its uncertainties of weather and threats of closures. He pointed out that he is re-thinking plans for his Bon Appétit kiosk, which opened last spring at Carnevale Plaza on Nassau Street. “We’re revisiting the food offerings, concentrating more on hot foods, soups, and deliveries,” he said. “The walk-up doesn’t work as well in the winter.” 

The Bon Appétit Cafe in Forrestal Village, Lettier claims, is doing well after eight years, but Lettier’s Bon Appétit Newtown in Pennsylvania was recently taken over by Vault Brewing Company, which Lettier claimed was a better fit for the location.