Bigger Bon: Local bodega brand celebrates with grand-opening party at new Pooler location

The Big Bon Family has big plans.

This evening, the culinary conception of founder-owner Kay Heritage will officially fête the brand’s Pooler bodega, which opened for business back on June 6 in The Commons at Savannah Quarters.

Fittingly, that day exactly marked a year since Shahin Afsharian joined the BBF as its managing partner, COO, and chef.

“We joke that this is my anniversary present,” he said of the new restaurant.

“We didn’t plan it that way, but it was pretty special,” said Heritage with her signature sweet smile.

From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. tonight, Heritage, Afsharian, and their team will host an open house party at Big Bon Bodega Pooler, featuring music by The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra.

So much to celebrate with so much more in the works.

DIVING INTO POOLER

“When we started to talk about expansion, we didn’t really have the capital to choose whatever we wanted, so we explored choices,” Afsharian explained, “and Pooler always came up.”

The previous occupant at 100 Blue Moon Crossing, Suite 115 was a Which Wich franchise, whose owners contacted the BBF about the imminent vacancy. Afsharian and Heritage are “good friends with [the owners of] Noble Roots and [The] Taco Stache,” both occupying neighboring suites in the same plaza, and sounded them out about the opportunity.

Because Noble Roots is a dinner destination, the BBF partners saw the possibility of doing “something breakfasty around here,” per Afsharian, and this past December, they signed the lease and leaped into the configuration of Big Bon’s second shop.

“It was the longest six months ever,” Heritage said and laughed, “because, supposedly, all the equipment was here, and we would just come in and take out the soda machine and change out the tiles and open.”

She paused. “No.”

As is always the case, the renovation was more involved than the pair first imagined, but the final product is immaculate, an intentional decor clone of the Bull Street original in a more open space that seats dozens of dine-in customers.

The natural wood pegboard wall of wares features goods from Auspicious Baking Co., Henny Penny, Leopold’s, Mi Vida Juices, and Savannah Square Pops, emphasizing the bodega aspect by way of locally sourced grab-and-go offerings.

Where a soda machine once stood at left is a discrete espresso bar island equipped with its own POS, a beacon for bevvy-only patrons. Black, white, and gray abound in the metal furniture and wall tiles, right down to the pristine restroom.

Although it purposefully replicates the brand’s design, it is anything but a cookie-cutter chain that dominates the Pooler foodscape. This property is close to 1,500 square feet, just a few nibbles bigger than the Big Bon Bodega OG, as Heritage calls it, which opened five years ago this past April.

“We learned a lot from the process,” she said of opening the Pooler location, “and I know that we’ll be smarter and better next time.”

Next time, you say?

“Oh yes, it’s happening,” Afsharian chimed in. “This is not where Big Bon stops.”


MORE IN STORE

By design, the Big Bon Bodega Pooler is a retail shop and restaurant, where fresh ingredients are prepared and orders are portioned and plated. For the time being, all of the primary production is being done at the Bull Street branch, which is both an eatery and the brand’s commissary kitchen.

“Our little factory,” Afsharian fondly called the original Art Deco corner store.

“The key to growth, I believe, is to have a production space as a hub and to distribute to different locations, and that’s what we’re working on,” said Heritage.

“We’re looking into that,” added the always upbeat Afsharian, alluding to more interior dining space at Big Bon Bodega Savannah once much of the equipment is housed in a centralized production facility.

As Store #2 stretches its wings, the present focus is on developing the best systems that will work at both branches.

“With one store, we didn’t have to think about that,” Afsharian admitted. “Now with two stores, how do we achieve all the bagels because we’re not able to put a bagel shop here? How do we achieve all the pizzas? We’re not able to put the pizza ovens in here.”

To answer those questions, he has spent the majority of his time at the Pooler outpost and will soon adopt a daily schedule that sees him come into Savannah twice a week; moreover, Afsharian’s employ in the BBF has allowed Heritage to lean on his lifetime of experience in food-and-beverage as he has streamlined labor, processes, and systems.

“It’s hard when you’re in the trench of operations to be creative,” she said candidly. “That’s exactly what happened. I was so entrenched in the OG, just trying to make it.”

Shortly after Afsharian joined on, he relieved Heritage of most operations management, telling her, “You do what you do best.”

“Now I can breathe,” Mama Kay recalled of that moment a year ago.

“It feels great,” she said. “I am not stressed. I am at a point, thanks to Shahin and the team, that I don’t have to be anywhere. I actually have time to be silent and think. It’s a great blessing and a luxury.”

Heritage’s thoughts are on further expansion, with one location already slated for Lyons.

“People are dying for something fun and new and different between Pooler and Macon,” she said.

“It’s been in the talks for a while,” Afsharian added.

Yesteryear: Savannah. This year: Pooler. Next year: Lyons. Years to come: whatever this pair dreams up.

BACK TO THE START

“At the end of the day, we want this to be a local community eatery rather than a bagel shop or a pizza shop,” said Heritage. “That was our intention back in 2019 when we opened.”

When Afsharian came onboard a year ago, he sensed a “loss of identity” and a “little bit of confusion” despite the brand’s being “super-strong.” Just six weeks into helming operations, he said to Heritage, “Wait a minute. This is not just a bagel shop. It’s a bodega, an international eatery.”

Encouraged by his assessment, she showed him her original deck of designs and plans.

“She had it already,” Afsharian said. “So much beautiful content, talking about family, a space of community, a table where we can share bread, good coffee, good ingredients with international flavors.”

That was the eureka moment: take Big Bon Bodega back to what Heritage had initially envisioned.

In moving forward with this development, the decision was made to use the recently reimagined Savannah Bodega’s menu as a blueprint, a gastronomic atlas that charts a transformation from morning bagelry to all-day eatery serving bagels, sandwiches, pizza, and rice bowls.

“Number Two has given us a lot of education on how we can do even better,” Heritage said and cited Afsharian’s and her own international backgrounds, calling their creation “our version of a bodega for your neighborhood.”

With Pooler becoming a more diverse community, the timing is perfect for their realization of a restaurant and market whose cuisine draws equally from global and local inspiration.

Families come in and acknowledge that this is a bulgogi first for their kids or even for the parents, which proved to be a quicker leap at the Savannah branch due to the prevalence of international SCAD students, downtown denizens, and tourists from all over the planet who already knew what a bánh mì was.

“We are a platform for people to try something new that is approachable,” said Afsharian. “When you come here, you can basically satisfy any craving you are having with international flair.”

A home of the familiar and the fanciful.

“That’s the key,” echoed Heritage. “We don’t want anything so ‘out there’ that people will go, ‘What is that?’”

MOBILE PIZZA FINAL HURRAHS

Having debuted in 2016, Big Bon’s mobile pizza kitchen has just five more scheduled events before the trailer is decommissioned, marking the end of an eating era.

“After eight years and over 500 events,” Heritage sighed, “35,000 miles on the trailer.”

“It gave us identity, brand, you name it,” she added. “We were able to create a great culture, but it’s time for me to close that chapter with the pizza mobile unit and assist Shahin and the team to open more locations.”

Though he joined the BBF long after the woodfire trailer launched, Afsharian recognized its significance, saying, “It’s the beginning of Big Bon, so it’s an important image, an icon. It’s a storytelling device of how everything started.”

“Back in 2016, the word ‘pop-up’ never really existed. Now, everything’s a pop-up,” Heritage said.

At the time, even true Neapolitan pizza was a rarity in the area. Not anymore.

“I feel like the trailer brought a lot of collaboration and ideation to Savannah that was not prominent,” she continued.

Afsharian shared that he and Heritage had considered selling it, which was met with a chorus of “No!” from blood relatives and BBF members.

“We are still thinking of a way to preserve it and utilize it,” he said.

“The team has ideas, but as long as I’m not driving and it’s parked somewhere, I’m fine,” Heritage said with another smile.

A food story for future time, maybe when they break ground on Bodega #3.

Big Bon Bodega Pooler (100 Blue Moon Crossing, Suite 115, Pooler) is open Tuesday through Saturday (7 a.m. to 7 p.m.); the grand opening party tonight will be from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

     
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