For those desiring American food with French flair, Bon Femme is the eatery to frequent. Conveniently located on Lincolnway in downtown Valpo, owner Keith Gurley has completely changed the presentation of Bon Femme since he took over 3 years ago. “I wanted the restaurant to be not just some place to eat, customers should have an experience here, laugh and enjoy themselves,” said Gurley
Keith realized he had a passion for restaurants while working at Angelo’s Sicilian Cart in Merrillville. “Skip [the owner] taught me so much about cooking and the restaurant business. I thought my passion was actually serving but working there is how I realized I had a passion for the restaurant business.” Gurley worked in a number of restaurants, reaching management position at every one. “The experience provided me free education, learning about the business,” stated Keith.
Moving to Illinois, Keith left the restaurant business for several years and became a Certified Diamontologist and Gemologist with JB Robinson Jewelers. “I found the jewelry business easy because it was enjoyable to talk to people,” he remembered, recalling how he worked his way up in the company to eventually taking over his own store. Eventually realizing he was better suited for the food industry, Keith moved back to Northwest Indiana in 2007.
Bon Femme was in great need of help and then owner George Nissan brought in Gurley to help. “The first words out of my mouth when I walked in the door were ‘this is my restaurant,’” stated Keith. He began working with George to turn the restaurant around and in the first year of working together, he saved $16,000 on linens alone. A theft problem was fixed and $10,000 was saved on insurance. Keith also worked to change the atmosphere of the restaurant, make it inviting and comfortable to all. “There wasn’t a day that went by that George didn’t say, ‘Kid, you never cease to amaze me.’”
Gurley is now into his third year of owning Bon Femme. The menu consists around steak and seafood dishes, with tall grass fed, organic meat. There are a lot of gluten free items on the menu as well. Keith’s main goal is to please his customers and turn them into regulars. “I love for somebody to say ‘Wow,’” he stated, “That is my reward.”
The menu changes often, to reflect the tastes of his customers. “We try different things a lot and feel if it’s working or not, change it if it does,” Gurley said, “If you have a least favorite dish, it should be taken off the menu and vice versa for popular dishes.” He went on to talk about a time when they had taken wedge salads off the menu and a table of five that desired to order the salads. “I drove to the store and got the ingredients for the salads,” he laughed.
Upon walking in the restaurant, visitors are greeted with two large paintings of cows. The work of artist Pat Fabian, Keith wants people to “walk in the door and laugh. It was too sophisticated before.” The décor also features other influences of French country, including roosters. “I want people to feel comfortable in here.”
“I’ve been extremely blessed in the way I get back 10 times what I give here,” stated Keith. A part of the Valpo Dining Group, Bon Femme collaborates with the other restaurants in the group for charity projects, as well as welcoming new restaurants to the downtown area. “When I first took ownership of Bon Femme, [the group] bonded together and offered me help,” he remembered, “The camaraderie between the restaurants is great.”
“It’s like Christmas every day.”