We can all recount a time in our lives when there was that spark.
That little something; be it a situation, a chance meeting, an experience or an epiphany that then led onto something greater happening. That time when you took stock and decided to do something differently, or perhaps even take a plunge into the unknown and start something completely new. For the couple behind Mermaid Beach’s Mexican sensation, Bonita Bonita and Bon Bon bar, you could very well say fall into the latter.
Morgan Walsh and partner Jessica Forras had a chance encounter with a New York Mexican restaurant some time ago. So taken by their experience—the food and the venue— for them was that “spark”. Bubbly Morgan hails from the land of the long white cloud (NZ peeps!) and always-smiling Jessica is a born and bred Gold Coaster. Between them, the pair have a strong hospo history and repertoire, having worked overseas and in the southern draw card of Melbourne. They did, however, meet here—in the blue and gold paradise we call home—and have set about opening one of the Gold Coast’s more gritty, attractive, and welcoming venues. We caught up with the talented duo for an arvo yarn in the sun, while naturally keeping refreshed with an ice-cold beer!
What do you love most about living on the Gold Coast?
Morgan: The lifestyle! I know it’s a cliché, but coming from a big city like Auckland to a place like the Gold Coast, it really is paradise. You have the best of both worlds and we’re lucky enough to have our careers here as well.
Jessica: I’ve done a fair bit of travelling overseas and I used to always want to be somewhere else. It’s when you come back that you realise it’s easy to take it all for granted, and that the Gold Coast does actually have everything exactly right here. It’s beautiful, how could you not love it?
Aside from your own venues, what are your fave spots for coffee, eats, and drinks?
Morgan: We eat out a lot so we happen to have a lot of favourites! In the morning you’ll often find us at Commune or Elk (Espresso); those two cafés have really set the bench mark for café culture on the Gold Coast. We also love Canteen with their unique Middle Eastern approach to everything. For lunch, The Lamb Shop is always super consistent and yummy. Dinner we like to pop over to the Glenelg Public House for a steak and also Social Eating House. Plus, Pinocchio’s Italian right by us; they are old school Italian and do amazing pasta.
Jessica: We have been known to do long lunches at The Fish House and Rick Shores; both have such a great spot there in Burleigh… Also Gemellini and Etsu.
Morgan: Etsu, although they are our friends, I think is one of the best restaurants in the country. They nail everything they do.
What inspired you to go with a Mexican-themed restaurant?
Morgan: We were travelling around America about four years ago, and we fell in love with Mexican food. We visited a place called La Esquina in New York and it was amazing. The first part was an old school diner and you think, “What is this place?” Then they take you downstairs through the kitchen and into this cool little dark basement-style eatery. We fell in love with the place, and you could say it was very much our inspiration for Bonita Bonita.
Jessica: We are definitely a modern approach to Mexican, and by no means do we think we are 100 per cent authentic. We use top-quality produce and really love the flavours, the colours, and the heat that is Mexican food.
What’s your take on the Gold Coast dining scene?
Jessica: I think it’s an exciting time for the Gold Coast at the moment. Initially there were just a few people who opened restaurants which started the movement, but in this last year it seems there is somewhere new popping up pretty much every week. Having people from Melbourne and Sydney coming to the Gold Coast and thinking we don’t have too much to offer, but the more they visit, the more that’s changing.
Morgan: We took some staff down to Sydney not so long ago and, it’s funny, sometimes when people find out you’re from the Gold coast they kind of almost look down at you! It’s amusing. The Gold Coast food culture has really taken off and it’s something to be proud of.
What’s the best advice someone has ever given you?
Jessica: Be prepared to beg, borrow, and steal!
Morgan: Know your market, and to stick to it… Also, you can’t please everyone.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened on a night at Bonita Bonita or Bon Bon?
Jessica: Stuff happens all the time, but just the other night actually we had a couple of clowns that were cartwheeling down the middle of the bar.
Morgan: These were 60 year olds that didn’t quite understand why they couldn’t cart wheel. In. The. Bar.
Jessica: It keeps it entertaining I guess, but yeah…
Morgan: You can also sometimes find our manager performing solo routines on the bar top—she’s quite good at that!
Why do you think Bonita Bonita is so loved?
Jessica: We really concentrate on our dining experience. We obviously have the setting, the cocktails, and everything else which pairs with that is amazing, but our number one focus is the food. We do also cater to a wide market of people and budgets; you can come in for a quick bite, or come wine and dine and go crazy.
Morgan: We like to think we have a great atmosphere, great service, and that our staff is really welcoming.
Tell us something about you that nobody knows…
Morgan: I wanted to be an Olympic kayaker; unfortunately I don’t think my five-foot frame means I’ll ever be able to do that!
Jessica: I’m studying acting at the moment, and I’m a big fan of cinema and film.
If you could take a vacation anywhere tomorrow, where would you go?
Morgan: The Greek Islands. Dare I say this? A long time ago I was on a Contiki tour and we stopped off at the Greek Islands; it was the best part of the trip. So yeah, I’d love to do it again, just minus the Contiki group!
Jessica: I’m a bit of a winter baby, so give me snow and I’m happy; Canada is probably my number one.
Morgan: We have a little project lined up; we feel like there aren’t a lot of small restaurants that do the kind of style we really like. So it’s going to be a change of pace to Bonita, a little slower and a little more refined. Very customer focused as well; so were excited about that.
Want to hear more from the faces behind the best restaurants on the Gold Coast? Check out our chat with Mitch and Nerissa McCluskey of Etsu, Commune Café, and Aloha pop-up bar.
Photo Credit: Brooke Darling for Metropolist