As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on across the U.S., restaurants are some of the companies hit hardest by the shutdowns and social distancing.
Operating under notoriously thin margins even in the best circumstances, restaurants don’t have much room to withstand an economic blow. As such, a Yelp report released July 10 by Business Insider estimates that nearly 60 percent of all restaurants closed during the pandemic are now permanently closed.
One of Fort Wayne’s first local restaurants to announce its questionably permanent closure during the pandemic was Bravas, with a heartfelt and somewhat cryptic Instagram post by Founder Bo Gonzalez, on June 15.
“As the dust begins to settle and the adrenaline wears off, I have decided to close down our restaurant and cease all catering and food truck operations, effective July 25,” Gonzalez wrote.
Bravas announced its closure on June 15, 2020, on Instagram.
Many comments and crying emojis later, the restaurant has been going out with a bang, selling out night after night and bringing back former employees, like Kate Jo, to sling sunshine one more time.
But for Bravas fans lamenting the loss of its funky burger combinations, its tiny fry-like potato sticks, and its thrice fried patatas, Gonzalez says you can put away your mourning clothes.
He definitely plans on reopening Bravas sometime in Fort Wayne’s future. Only time will tell when. Bravas sold out of food multiple times since announcing its closure.
“I am incredibly excited to keep Bravas going and for our future plans,” he says.
For those wondering if Bravas could see a change in ownership, don’t count on it.
“I have no intentions of selling,” he says. “People have reached out when we announced we were closing. One guy called and said ‘We are going to save your ass,’ but no, I’m definitely not selling.”
So what is motivating the sudden, conversation-stirring closure amidst the pandemic? Gonzalez says it’s simpler than you might think.
More than financial, his reasons are personal. He wants to spend more time with his family and focus on his mental health, which is something he believes is essential in the state of the world.
“Honestly, it’s about mental health and just taking care of myself and my family right now,” he says. “I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that I wanted to take a break and not feeling like I could. People aren’t used to closing because someone wants to work on their mental health, but that’s the gist of it.”
Bravas is known for its tiny, fry-like potato sticks on its signature hot dogs.
Along with taking a break, Gonzalez plans to take advantage of his time off. When Bravas does reopen, he wants to change the structure of it. The question if Bravas will still be located at their same location when they inevitably reopen, is still undetermined, though Gonzalez does have exciting plans for their future.
“I really want to get back to that inventive, event-driven format with less of the traditional, ‘open seven days’ stuff a week,” he says. “I want to get back to the more creative years we’ve had.”
Bravas first became famous for its hot dogs.
Now known as a popular, homegrown burger and hot dog restaurant in the 46807, Bravas started its journey as a humble hot dog cart in 2012. It was technically the first food truck to grace the streets of downtown Fort Wayne, and at first, its concept was a difficult sell.
The day Gonzalez opened shop, his mother and her friends were the only ones who gave it a try, but as locals began to warm up to the idea of buying a hot dog from a guy on the streets, the concept for Bravas—and the city’s impressive food truck culture today—began to grow.
The Bravas food truck is also temporarily closed.
Several experimental hotdogs later, Bravas went from a cart to a food truck and a brick-and-mortar location in December 2014. Since then, it’s been infusing a once-vacant spot next to Wunderkammer Company with new life.
As a graduate of South Side High School, Gonzalez says he never questioned locating his restaurant on the South Side.
“I spent a lot of time on there, and it just made sense,” he says.
Over the years, Bravas remained bullish supporters of the South Side of town, despite being wooed by developers to relocate to the up-and-coming Landing historic district downtown.
“We ultimately decided we loved where we were, and we wanted to stay there,” Gonzalez says.
Bravas staff stands in front of the restaurant.
From day one, Bravas has helped lure a legion of loyal diners to the South Side by choosing regionally raised food and championing city culture. In his time off, Gonzalez says he’s excited to keep doing what Bravas does in new ways: Standing up for what’s right.
Over the years, Bravas has worked hard to be an open and welcoming space in the city, drawing attention to movements making positive change on social issues at the local and national level. Its staff from the top down have made a concerted effort to create an environment of inclusivity, too.
“Bravas has done fundraisers, and we have a good network,” Gonzalez says. “I’m excited to do more community work and spend more time volunteering where people need help…. That's why Bravas was so successful at being a community space. We hustled and worked hard to create something positive.”
Bravas is known for its thrice-fried patatas.
In recent months, he says he’s becoming more aware of the scope of the local government and the complexities of the political bodies that operate within Fort Wayne. While he has no plans or intentions of running for office, he is eager to focus his energy on working with community groups and candidates who are creating positive change in the city. This means speaking directly to those elected to represent the community and voicing his concerns on changes he’d like to see made.
“I’ve been a voter in every election, and I thought that was it,” Gonzalez says. “But it’s so complex, and I’m excited to get more involved.”
At the same time, he’s also excited to work more on himself and take a break. The rush of the restaurant industry doesn’t allow much time for self-reflection or reflection, in general.
Looking back over his time at Bravas so far, Gonzalez says it’s hard to choose favorite menu items. But he does have a few.
“I think my desert island burger would be our Fried Onion Burger,” he says, noting that it has a slightly misleading name since the onions on the burger aren’t actually fried. They’re just shaved thinly and piled on top of the patty while grilling. Smashing them together allows them to caramelize and cook together before being topped with mustard, pickles, and American Cheese.
A Fried Onion Burger in the making.
In terms of his favorite menu theme at Bravas, that one is even more difficult to answer, Gonzalez says.
“My favorite menu we ever did was a Spain-themed menu we had in 2016 for one day,” he says.
In his newfound free time, he plans to keep cooking from home and creating unique burgers for his family.
“I’ll definitely be recipe testing for when we do eventually plot the return of Bravas,” he says.
He says customers can expect to see new dishes at the future Bravas, and they can keep following Bravas on social media for updates from time to time. Just don’t expect to see Gonzalez doing any video.
“I do want to keep our following and customers involved while we aren’t open, but the idea of going live frightens me to death,” he says. “I’m terrible in front of a camera.”
Bravas offered carry out during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Along with an eventual reopening, Gonzalez says Bravas fans can look forward to a special zine-style cookbook with a few Bravas menu favorites, made possible by a collaboration with local artists, like Michael Collins. (Stay tuned to Instagram for details).
In the meantime, Gonzalez plans to get back to his roots, gardening with the family.
“We are growing vegetables, and I’m excited to grow flowers for the bees,” he says. “All that takes time.”
While it is sad to see a community favorite close, many locals look forward to the inevitable return.
For those already missing regular visits to Bravas this year, Gonzalez has one more message:
“First off, I love the heck out of every single one of you who have supported the journey that is Bravas. For real,” he says. “I understand there may be some confusion as to why we are closing. This break I am taking is going to be much needed for my mental and physical health. I have plans to come back. I am an entrepreneur at heart and already have so many ideas swirling around ye' olde noggin'. Keep posted on the social media outlets for Bravas. We might even do a little event here at the end of the year. I really can't find the words to truly express what the support you all have shown means to me. A simple thank you is going to have to do. Love you guys. See you soon.”