Stone steps lead up to an airy space where much of the building’s old rustic décor has been lovingly restored to house all manner of memorabilia, all looking out on the myriad of traditional wooden restaurant tables and booths.
Next month marks the fifth year for Bonnie Lou’s Café at 2238 Floradale Rd. in the bucolic brick building that its owner grew up knowing as the Ruggles General Store.
“I used to come down here as a kid and get whatever the general store had to offer,” said restaurant owner Bonnie Martin.
“When it came for sale, I just thought something should be done with it so that people could come and enjoy the atmosphere. It still has all of the original antique counters and the old post office. We opened the bottom section as a café and we’ve been seeing people come from all over the place – it has become a destination.”
Over its five years of existence the café has become a part of the tourist scene with its antique charm and emphasis on home-style meals for breakfast and lunch, Martin said. The store had belonged to the same family for four generations, reflecting the history of Floradale.
“Coming into the building was like stepping back in time. When I came in [five years ago] I thought, for me to even find another place that looked like this, I couldn’t.”
Several times locals have brought in their own memories of the general store to Martin, including a story about former prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.
“There was a man from the general store, he used to make suits for Mackenzie King. A lady brought in a picture of Mackenzie King coming to meet the tailor at the general store. All of the kids got out of school that day and they got to watch Mackenzie King come and pick up his suit.”
The five-year hump is a milestone in the restaurant business and now there are plans to expand. In addition to serving breakfast and lunch, recent requests have prompted Martin to keep her doors open past 4 p.m. starting in May.
With the help of Donna Gingrich of the former Winfields Restaurant, Martin will be bringing the homemade touch to a dinner menu this spring.
“I had younger children when we first opened and we live on a farm. I feel now that I’d like to pursue a little bit more, and have staff willing to work later hours.”
With little experience running a restaurant business, but much in the way of people skills, Martin opened the café to preserve the building’s history and bring homemade food to the table.
“I just thought, what if we do a lot of our food homemade, what we were brought up with? A lot of our stuff is made from scratch, and that is the attraction for people,” she said.
“A lot of people don’t take the time for that. It doesn’t necessarily have to be fancy, but if it’s good … That’s where the idea is coming from. I try to support my local people, like Floralane Produce, the butcher down the street. I do try to promote local.”
Realizing the café’s appeal as a quick-stop for cyclists, hikers (trails abut the building) and tourists, Martin tries to give a helping hand with directions and suggestions for local attractions.
“Once you have something and people come, they are looking for more. I’m bringing people here, now where else can I send them? ” she said.
When Martin started the business she didn’t know if her appreciation of the old building and its location would be shared by customers coming through her door.
“When we started, we were hoping that other people shared the same view as I did: seeing that it’s a neat place with a lot of history.”
It took Martin, her husband and a friend about seven months to restore the general store’s gleaming wood and antique décor. Much effort was put into bringing the space up to modern building codes, all the while preserving the historical objects inside including an intricately designed antique cashier, the original post office mail slots, counters and cabinets.
“When people come in their first feeling is a cozy, warm sensation because of all the woodwork and all of the things that relate to what I have on the shelves – a reminiscing of the good old days.”
Starting May 1 Bonnie Lou’s Café will be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
“I’ve learned a lot, pursuing what we are going to do now doesn’t seem near as stressful as it was starting up … I felt like I‘ve really worked hard to get to where we are at and I’ve had good staff to help me through it. At five years I also think change is good,” Martin said.