If you could pin Kay Heritage down long enough to get an answer to this question, the answer is likely to be “no, not really.”
The question is pretty simple. “When you decided to build a food truck in Savannah making wood fire oven baked pizzas, did you ever think it would evolve into one of Savannah’s most popular bagel sandwich shops?”
Yet, here we are.
By any account, it has been a pretty spectacular seven year run for Kay and her Big Bon family, and we mean that in every sense of the word. She will be the first to tell you Big Bon hasn’t gotten to this point without the help of a great many people, especially her employees whom she famously treats like family. She’s even willing to show “the books” to them, sharing how the business is doing. There is total investment from everyone involved and the results prove it’s a solid strategy.
She will also be the first to tell you that there is only so much she could do. Growth? How do you do that when you are already near capacity in your shop plus handling any number of catering opportunities that have come your way? If Big Bon was going to grow any further, something had to give.
Shahin Afsharian is a chef who came to Savannah to work at the Plant Riverside District. Within a year or so, he was executive chef of the whole thing. Yes, all of it.
“Kay and I have been friends since Big Bon has been open,” Shahin says. “We would have coffee maybe once a month. She’d ask me for advice. Little by little we built a friendship.”
That friendship led Kay to have enough faith and confidence in Shahin to share her view of Big Bon’s future.
“One day she said, ‘Look, I don’t know what I’m going to do with Big Bon. Everything I’m doing is run by me. Do you know anybody who could help?’”
Shahin was originally going to recommend someone else, but the more he thought about it, the more he thought he’d be perfect for it. Savannah had grown on him. It reminded him in many ways of his native Mexico and it was a good opportunity to settle down for a while after going to school and traveling the world for his career.
After some discussion, it was agreed upon. Shahin came on as a partner with eyes on the culinary side of the equation. He’s been charged with developing and expanding Big Bon’s menus. Yes, plural.
“Big Bon’s inspiration has always been global,” he says. “It made sense for me because I’m internationally influenced in every way. The bagel was the vehicle to transport flavors from around the world.”
In the short time Shahin has been on board, he’s added eight sandwiches to Big Bon’s already popular offerings of sandwiches. The Savannah 912
(bacon, egg and cheese) remains the most popular, but he’s enhanced the
Korean Mama, named for Kay, of course, with bulgogi beef, a kimchi spread, pickled onions, American cheese, and Korean chili cream cheese on a sesame bagel.
There’s now a Cubanito–Big Bon’s spin on the Cuban sandwich. It features prosciutto instead of ham, brie instead of swiss, pickles, mustard and their house made sofrito pork. I watched him make it recently. It is a monster, sure to make a delicious mess. The falafel sandwich is more than a mouthful of house-made freshness.
Then there’s the Buffalo Bee featuring fried chicken, bacon, cheddar, pickles, honey buffalo sauce and spicy aioli on an asiago-cheddar bagel. I did eat that one and it’s fantastic.
Of course, all of this comes with attachments. The menu isn’t expanding just because they want to sell more bagels. Well, that obviously is part of it, but that’s the short term vision. There is a long term plan coming together in the form of expansion. Shahin tells me Big Bon Bodega plans to open a couple more locations in the near future with the first coming in Pooler. We did not discuss specifics, but they are definitely in the works.
Beyond that is the return of Big Bon’s pizza program. Shahin says they’ve been tweaking some recipes over the last few weeks and hope to have it ready to roll out in November. We’ll have more on that when we get closer.
It’s been a big year for Big Bon. Visits from television stars Samantha Brown and Guy Fieri were just the beginning. That’s certainly good for business, but from the looks of it, they are just getting started.