Interview with Joe Campana
Owner of Bonny and Read
101 N. Tejon Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80903
We sat down with restaurateur, Joe Campana, to find out what makes him tick. He shared with us his vision for his pirate-themed seafood restaurant, Bonny and Read Fresh Seafood and Steaks, which just celebrated one year. It seemed like the perfect time to take inventory of what happened and what is to come for this creative and risk-taking entrepreneur.
Bonny and Read just celebrated their first full year, how do you feel it went?
Honestly, I don’t typically celebrate anniversaries. I just keep going. I am glad we made it, and we survived and kept employing people. As a restaurant, you’re always feeling like the bubble is going to burst. Owning a restaurant is not glamorous. You can make money, but you can lose a lot of money, too. The margins are tight. But we made it through.
What did you think was your biggest challenge during this first year?
Multitasking is hard when you run three restaurants. It’s hard to keep cooks. We’ve kept most of ours. Employees are tough and hard to keep happy. We trust employees with our reputation. I try to hire people who have my values, who pick something up off the ground when walking by and not just leave it there.
What is something that sets you apart from other seafood restaurants in Colorado Springs?
Seafood in general – the uniqueness of offering fresh fish. We get the whole thing in and cut it that day. The fish is only 48 hours out of the water. We’re the only ones in downtown that offer live Maine lobster. We are in the heart of downtown, so we couldn’t get a better location. And all of our artwork was commissioned by a local artist, Phil Lear. He does some pretty cool stuff.
As we share on our food tours every weekend, Bonny and Read is named in honor of two notorious female pirates. How did you come up with this theme?
I first considered what downtown needed in terms of food. I’m from Florida and Massachusetts where can you go out and get any kind of seafood. That was a void here in Colorado Springs.
And of course, as with my other restaurants, I always like to have a theme. When you have a theme, you can play with the menu in order to tell the story. We’re very serious about our food, though. Bonny and Read has a more historical background than my other restaurants, and my business partner, Jerry Flesher, actually came up with the idea. We have the story of the pirates on our menus. It’s a fun thing to play with, but I’m not going to make my servers where a hat and an eye patch, or anything.
Are there any fun facts or secrets about the menu and/or how it was created?
My chef, Josh Kelly, and I came up with the menu. I worked with him at Phantom Canyon more than 10 years ago. He has a lot of knowledge of fish as he used to be the Executive Chef at Whole Foods. We wanted to create a menu that’s a little bit for everybody. We needed to have variety, and so though fish is our main focus, we have other unique dishes made from different proteins.
What are your favorite menu items?
I particularly like the Seafood Tower because of everything it comes with: a whole main lobster, shrimp, crab, and oysters. It’s a great dish to share between two-to-four people. I’d say it’s probably the best thing we have on the menu in terms of value.
But really, I like any fish on our menu. It’s all fresh and caught within only a day or two of our receiving it. Plus, all of our steaks are hand-cut and farm-raised here in Colorado.
What is the latest food trend that you find yourself following or inspired by?
I don’t follow food trends. Organic and healthy is what people want. You see that changing in the grocery stores. I think that’s what most people are wanting. Try to be original.
How did you get started in the restaurant industry?
My mother was a bartender, and my father was an electrician. I started dishwashing at age 11. I went from bussing to serving to bartending to managing and then finally to owning. But before I got to that level, I was doing electrical work like my dad, but it just wasn’t me. So, I purchased my first restaurant in Massachusetts called Uncle Bucks – an ice cream and sub shop. That was really my first time having that level of responsibility, and it was hard. I shut it down after a year. I decided to move to Tahoe, but I made a pitstop and ended up in Colorado Springs in 1999. I love it here.
What are some of your values as a business owner or manager?
Take care of your employees. The harder you work as the owner, bussing and washing glasses, it makes them work harder. If your employees are happy, then your guests are happy, too. Treat every guest in a way that encourages them to be a repeat customer, like they’re coming to your house for dinner.
Alright, our famous question we ask all of our food tour guests! If you were stranded on a desert island and could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what food would that be?
It’s got to be Chinese food, I am not going to lie! Lo mein, pepper steak, egg drop soup, rice, dumplings…I could eat that the rest of my life!
Hm, maybe that could be a new idea for another future restaurant? Thanks, Joe, and best of luck to you in year two!
If you’d like to check out Bonny and Read, join us for our Pikes Peak Progressive Dinner.
Cheers, Your Rocky Mountain Food Tours Team