A Dawson cafe and restaurant that showcases locally farmed goods to its plates is being recognized as one of the best new restaurants in the country.
BonTon & Company was named in the annual list of best new restaurants produced by Air Canada and OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation provider.
“Diners at Shelby Jordan and Dennis Dunn’s Yukon restaurant, just 240 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle, are treated to international cuisine inspired by surrounding farms and producers,” reads a description of the restaurant. “BonTon & Company is part of a Dawson City movement to re-establish local food chains and reverse decades of reliance on goods trucked in from away.”
BonTon is one of seven restaurants listed as the best new restaurants across the country with the list also highlighting subsea forager Tim Bell of Newfoundland as the producer of the year, and Les Jardins Lakou of Quebec as the grower of the year.
Dunn says it was a good day at BonTon as news spread through town.
“It’s really positive,” he says. “There’s been a lot of congratulations.”
It would seem the recognition has also brought some pride and bragging rights for the entire community with the Klondike Sun soon boasting about it on Twitter and making an argument to move the territory’s capital back to Dawson.
“Unsurprisingly, a Dawson City restaurant made the list. Whitehorse, where you at? We have overshadowed you again. Should the capital be moved back. Discuss,” reads the tweet, which also includes a link to the list.
Dunn is hopeful the recognition will assure the BonTon name is out there and will assist with the future business health of the restaurant while also highlighting the importance and benefits of purchasing locally as much as possible.
Locals supporting local
BonTon’s success is built on maintaining a locally-sourced menu that sees it purchase from a wide variety of Yukon – primarily Dawson – suppliers including the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Farm, Yukon Born and Raised Meats and Birch Hill Forest Farm among a long list of others.
A quick look at a sample menu showcases the local goods. A grapefruit salad dish, for example, is made with herbs and greens from Cold Acre and ricotta cheese from Klondike Valley Creamery. One of the charcuterie options features Taku River Sockeye salmon rillettes with Klondike Valley ricotta cheese, Yukon River chum salmon bottarga served with Cold Acres greens and bread.
Being named one of the best new restaurants in the country follows some significant challenges that came with opening up shop.
Now open about a year, Dunn says he and Jordan had originally planned to much earlier in 2020.
“We had to put some business plans on hold,” he said, noting COVID-19 pushed the original projected opening date into the summer of 2020.
Even then, their vision had to be altered and limited to takeaway options for some time.
When they were able to and comfortable, they moved to the model BonTon operates under now — a daytime cafe serving tea, coffee, house-made baked goods and daily lunch specials, while serving a different restaurant a la carte menu by night three nights a week.
The shop also continues to operate through the day selling in-house made sausages, salami and charcuterie along with a number of other products from local producers.
Dunn says the concept for BonTon came about a few years ago from a conversation he and Jordan had one day when Dunn went to purchase some meat from Jordan’s operation.
“She has really high quality products,” he says.
Jordan had actually started BonTon Butchery & Charcuterie as a small workshop on her property, processing farmed and hunted meats after training in butchery at Thompson Rivers University and traditional charcuterie at the Italian Culinary Institute in Italy.
Dunn, meanwhile, brings with him 20 years of experience in hospitality, most recently working as the general manager of Triple J Hotel and Cabins in Dawson from 2012 to 2020 and a previous eight years as the floor manager of Diamond Tooth Gerties.
Dunn had been thinking about opening a restaurant of his own one day and after both he and Jordan discussed their own ideas for the future, it seemed like the right business match. While Jordan brings her skills in butchery and charcuterie to produce quality meals and meats, Dunn brings his skills in management to the business operation.
BonTon has benefitted from community support since the beginning, Dunn says.
“We get a lot of local support,” he says, stressing it has been especially important in opening up shop during a pandemic.
Moving forward, with Dawson typically getting quieter in the winter months, the business will continue to focus on the community. While the hours may change in the colder months, BonTon aims to be a place where residents can continue to go out for lunch or a meal featuring local goods.
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