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Monday Morning ‘MUG’ing: Becoming mainstream

This week’s Monday Morning ‘MUG’ing is about Bonobo’s, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant on Oliver Road.

THUNDER BAY -- Morgan Zimmer started working at Bonobo’s when she was 18. “I loved it from the moment I started,” she says. After a few years, the original owners let her know they were thinking about selling the business. “I knew it was an opportunity and I thought I would regret it if I didn’t [take the opportunity.]”

Zimmer began managing the place on her own in 2017, and last year, she became the owner. “I  worked hard for it but I’m very lucky,” she says.

Bonobo’s opened in the late 2000s and Zimmer says it’s the oldest surviving exclusively vegetarian/vegan restaurant in town. While plant-based diets have become much more mainstream lately, it was still a niche market when Zimmer started working there almost eight years ago. “It was something different for me because I wasn’t vegetarian or vegan, it wasn’t cooking I was used to. I learned a lot, and I loved the people, I love talking to customers.”

Initially, Bonobo’s was a takeout and grocery place, but they started dine-in about four years ago. When the pandemic hit, Zimmer closed for a couple of weeks, then reopened for takeout again. Surprisingly, this summer was the busiest she’s ever had. “It’s been wild! Thunder Bay loves to support local; we’re really lucky,” she says.

Bonobo’s has a lot of local suppliers, using products from Meat the Alternative, Heartbeat Hot Sauce, B&B Farms, Agostino’s, Nor’Wester Maple Co., Shumka Dust, and Vanderwees when tomatoes are in season. All but one of their patties are made in-house, as are their salad dressings and sauces.

“I don’t think COVID is going anywhere anytime soon, so I’d really like a food truck,” she says. “I’m originally from Kakabeka, so I thought having a food truck out there for the summer might be fun.”

A big goal for 2021 will be selling patties outside the store, Zimmer says. Currently, she sells patties to customers if the restaurant has enough to share, but she hopes to take that a step further. “Our veggie patties are so popular, I want to get proper packaging and nutritional labels and start distributing.”

She hopes other local businesses and grocery stores might start carrying Bonobo’s patties, because “there’s a big market for that in Thunder Bay.”

“Maybe it’ll get big like Heartbeat Hot Sauce one day,” Zimmer says.