The Major Stumbling Block Calvin Eng Faced When Opening Bonnie's In Brooklyn - Exclusive

Calvin Eng, the James Beard Award-nominated genius behind Bonnie's in Brooklyn, is not as cocky as he could be. The New Yorker raved over Eng's flavor profiles for paragraphs. The New York Times can't get over the char siu glaze the chef developed for Bonnie's signature McRib. Despite his success, Eng — when he sat down with Mashed — was modest to a fault. 

"I feel like every day [at the restaurant] is a problem in the story," he reflected wryly. Eng's experience in the culinary industry is not, of course, unique. As he so often did, Anthony Bourdain articulated the universality of Eng's feelings like few will be able to: "If anything is good for pounding humility into you permanently, it's the restaurant business."

Bonnie's opened its doors in December 2021, a good four months after originally planned, the chef revealed. By then, he had no doubt internalized Bobby Flay's restaurant-opening mantra: to be — as Flay once told CNBC — "overcapitalized and overpatient." Eng would no doubt have preferred to open in September, but (spoiler alert) this story has a happy ending. Looking back on it, the delay worked out fortuitously.

Why Bonnie's opened four months later than planned

Calvin Eng wasn't looking for experience when he started hiring staff. He was looking for "good people." "I always joke that we have the greenest kitchen in New York," Eng told Mashed. "It's very young, very green." While many of his employees are beginning their culinary careers at Bonnie's, that's not what tripped Eng up.

"We tried to open in September," he revealed, "but we ended up opening in December due to so many delays and gas and everything. [It got] to the point where we had a full team of 30 people ready to work at a restaurant, it was ready to go, except that we didn't have gas to cook anything with." 

Eng's solution, when he came up with it in November, was nothing short of ingenious. "We did the no gas popup where it was random dishes that I made," Eng said. "It was hard to make those dishes, because Cantonese people don't even really eat raw or cold things like that. It's always blanched or cooked or something." The experience was doubly difficult because, as Eng explained, "[Everything was] brand new — brand new team, brand new restaurant." 

The chef was — as he has been since — wildly successful in his attempt. Even The New York Times would write about the raw oysters Eng served during his culinary improv session. "It made opening easier," Eng concluded, "because [by the time we opened, we'd done] a version of it with training wheels."

Eng's latest venture is a partnership with Vita Coco for the launch of its new juice line. This is the brand's first juice offering, conveniently canned for a quick on-the-go boost with tropical flavors that will transport your taste buds to the tropics. Coconut Juice is available in two flavors — Original with Pulp and Mango — at your favorite 7-Eleven store across the East Coast and Southeast.