Bravas is back at it, but what will the future be like? Founder Bo Gonzalez shares his plans

Spring is here, and along with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, Fort Wayne residents have one more thing to look forward to: The much-anticipated return of the ’07’s favorite burger and hot dog spot, Bravas.

In the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, many Fort Wayne area food businesses closed. According to the National Restaurant Association, “As of Dec. 1, 2020, more than 110,000 eating and drinking places were closed for business temporarily, or for good.”

Thankfully, Bravas is one of the lucky businesses in the "temporary" category.

Soon after it served up its last Snoooop Burgers and patatas in July 2020, Founder Bo Gonzalez made his intentions to reopen at some point clear. The questions for many anxiously awaiting the return of Bravas were: When, where, and what would the future be like?

This spring, all of that is starting to take shape.

Bravas employees are hard at work inside the food truck.

Those who have been following Bravas’s progress on social media know that they’re already back at it again, rolling out a soft reopening with a return to their roots as a food cart.

Gonzalez first opened his hot dog cart 10 years ago in downtown Fort Wayne at the age of 19 and the dawn of Fort Wayne’s burgeoning food truck scene. While the pandemic took Gonzalez away from his passion for serving up dogs and burgers for a while, he couldn’t stay away for long.

“I hadn’t planned on reopening until April or May with the food truck,” Gonzalez says. “I just got the itch earlier than expected.”

The original Bravas hot dog cart.

While Bravas is moving forward with its reopening, it’s being strategic and cautious about pandemic procedures.

“We seem to be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with COVID-19, but we still want to avoid creating large gatherings, so we will be doing online ordering and curbside pickup until our restaurant is ready,” Gonzalez says.

Speaking of restaurants, Bravas will have a new brick-and-mortar location in the ’07 two doors down from its original spot, this time at 3416 Fairfield Ave. The reason? More space, Gonzalez says. As Bravas grew, they wanted more room for events and dining, so in a way, this growth has been a long time coming.

Bravas staff stands in front of the restaurant.

Gonzalez says Bravas is confident in a third or fourth quarter 2021 opening for their brick-and-mortar. For now, you can get your fix at the food truck. Hours are listed on Bravas’s social media.

“I hope to slowly expand our hours over the course of the year, take the truck to a few events, and do a catering event or two,” Gonzalez says.

Bravas serves five types of gourmet hot dogs from its truck.

One thing that won’t be changing significantly at the future Bravas is the menu. Its staple American cuisine of the burger and hot dog will remain, Gonzalez says. After all, he is passionate about burgers. He even gave us a brief history lesson on how the first hamburgers were created.

“People who used to ride on camel had their meat on the back of the camel, and they’d ride across the desert,” he says. “By the time they arrived to their destination, the meat had been so beaten up by the camel running, it had turned into a ground meat, and that turned into the first burger.”

Bo Gonzalez is the founder of Bravas, a thriving burger and hot dog spot in the 46807.

Along with enjoying the taste of burgers, Gonzalez views Bravas burgers as creating sustainability within the red meat industry. For starters, the restaurant sources its local organic and pastured beef from Wood Farms supply chains operated by the family of Dennis and Kristen Wood in Fort Wayne.

“The burger is a crucial piece of meat production, too,” Gonzalez says. “There are only two whole ribeyes on a whole beef. You can get maybe 40 pounds off of one cow, but you get 400 to 500 pounds of ground beef. In order to have a sustainable beef supply chain, you need to sell cheeseburgers. The consumer doesn’t understand that a steakhouse selling 500 ribeyes every night is incredibly unsustainable.”

Two Truck Burgers with bacon ready to go.

Along with its beloved burgers and dogs, Bravas’s future menu will be expanding to give customers a taste of Gonzalez’s heritage. He currently holds dual citizenship in the United States and Spain, where the majority of his family lives.

“For the brick-and-mortar, we will have my grandmother’s wings from Spain,” Gonzalez says. “They are garlicky with parsley and white wine, fried and tossed in a wet sauce placed over patatas. It is very Mediterranean. They aren’t spicy, but they are delicious.”

Along with dreaming up some new menu items, Gonzalez spent his “sabbatical” during the pandemic supporting other community efforts around Fort Wayne, including the Fair Fridge community pantry, which is right next to Bravas’s future location.

“My sister, the people who run Dirt Wain, and I put together The Fair Fridge on Fairfield,” he says. “It’s a community pantry, refrigerator, and freezer that is continuously stocked with free food. Becky, my sister and the Co-Owner of Bravas, does composting routes and rides her bike around picking up compost for Dirt Wain.”

Becky Gonzalez, Bo Gonzalez, Brett Bloom, and Manuel Gonzalez build the Fair Fridge community pantry next to Bravas's new location.

Gonzalez has also returned to his drumming roots during the pandemic, recently performing with Rapper Sankofa at the Fort Wayne Embassy on February 20. At one point, Bravas employed enough people to put together a Bravas band, Gonzalez says. One day, a mixtape could happen. Until then, Sankofa has songs about Bravas the community can enjoy.

As Fort Wayne finds its new normal in a post-pandemic world, Gonzalez hopes to see positive change ripple across the city, too.

“I think every business in Fort Wayne should feel some sort of responsibility to have environmentally friendly practices,” he says. “The ’07 has a chance to be a leader in that. One of the things I love about the neighborhood is that it has a very diverse set of forward-thinking people doing a lot of good stuff who have the opportunity to lead the way.”

Bo Gonzalez says the 07 can be a catalyst for change in Fort Wayne with residents like Bravas and Wunderkammer Company.

In its reopening, Bravas is rethinking its own business model based on lessons Gonzalez has gleaned these past few months.

He cited the initial need to close his restaurant, not necessarily for financial reasons, but for a mental health break and to devote more time to his family. As he looks to the future, he says Bravas will be scaling back in some ways, focusing more on its day-to-day operations and less on catering events, which doesn’t align well with his passions or interests.

Instead, Gonzalez wants to spend his energies on implementing new initiatives to address the ongoing challenges of climate change and become more conscious of the effect Bravas has on the environment.

“Restaurants are notoriously not very environmentally friendly,” he says. “We want to be radically different in our relationship with the environment and our impact on the community. We’ll have radical recycling and composting procedures.”

Bravas employees prep orders inside the food truck.

He also wants Bravas to create more equitable working environments in the hospitality industry and help workers—including himself—avoid burnout in the future.

One important area of change for Gonzalez to meeting this goal is supporting a $15 minimum wage for all full-time Bravas workers. Gonzalez says his current his staff makes more than $15 an hour, and he hopes this mentality of running a restaurant will extend to other parts of the city and country, as the U.S. considers a federal minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $15 an hour over the course of five years.

Thus far, Indiana restaurateurs have largely opposed efforts to raise the minimum wage. But Gonzalez sees the need for change as an issue that runs deeper than finances.

“The disparity of wages between front house and back house of a restaurant is a classic restaurant issue that has existed forever,” he says. “I also think it’s a bigger issue that’s been this way because front house has been majority white workers, and the back house has been black and brown workforce, so I think it’s an inherently racist system.”

The Bravas truck is parked outside the restaurant's new location at 3416 Fairfield Ave.

Bravas is currently in the process of establishing a service fee to create a more equitable working environment for their staff.

“I think the tipping structure is broken and has to change,” Gonzalez says. “We have a business that can better tackle that change. We hope to be a radically progressive business. We want to lead by example and just show that you can pay your people really good money and pay for services that really contribute to a better environment and have a successful business.” 

While the pandemic hasn’t created many positive changes in the restaurant industry yet, Gonzalez says his “accidental sabbatical” has been an eye-opening experience for him, as an overworked employee himself.

“It took a whole pandemic for me to shut down and take an accidental sabbatical,” Gonzalez says. “It was great to look at Bravas with fresh eyes and think of what we want to be and how we want to contribute for Fort Wayne and the hospitality industry. I think we will be able to take every lesson from the last 10 years—good and bad—moving forward, and it’s going to make us a 100 percent better business, as we snowball into our new brick-and-mortar.”
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