Little Bon Bon set to sweeten Chinatown with deep family history

· The Pulse

The creators of Yelo'd are opening an ice cream parlour and café called Little Bon Bon in the historic Hull Block, at 9660 106 Avenue NW, in June.

Co-owners Ailynn and Jason Wong hope Little Bon Bon will add to their family's long history of Canadian hospitality, and bring positive energy to Chinatown.

Jason Wong told Taproot the aim is also to become a destination. "We want people to say, 'After the soccer game, or after dinner, let's go for ice cream at Little Bon Bon,'" he said.

Wong also said the opportunity to open a new Chinatown shop felt like fate, dovetailing with his connection to the neighbourhood and heritage.

"We spend a lot of time down here," he said. "We're here within a six-block radius every one or two weeks. Golden Bird was our first date spot in 1996, and we've been going there ever since."

Chinatown is already a significant part of Yelo'd, too, as it provides many fresh ingredients. "Items that we use fresh as much as we can — things like jackfruit, coconut milk, red mungo bean — we can't get them anywhere else in the quantities that we need," Wong said.

Still, making the Chinatown shop happen took work. During a Chinatown street festival in 2023, the couple connected with a Chinatown Business Improvement Area representative who asked if they would consider opening in the neighbourhood. Although the couple had already pondered the possibility, the BIA was able to sweeten the idea with a grant of $40,000 to cover renovations.

That money was part of the $1 million Chinatown Recovery Fund issued by the City of Edmonton in 2022-2023, with four businesses each receiving a $40,000 incentive to open in Chinatown. The recipients were Pho Satay & Grill, Boa and Hare, One01 Bistro, and Little Bon Bon.

After the grant offer, the couple searched for spaces but couldn't find a suitable option. Then a member of the Chinatown Transformation Collaborative told them about a unit available in Hull Block. "We saw it and the dream wheels really started to turn," Wong said. "We got that feeling of what we could do."

Jason Wong on the street next to the front window at Little Bon Bon

Jason Wong (pictured) and partner Ailynn Wong will open Little Bon Bon, an ice cream parlour and café, in the historic Hull Block at 9660 106 Avenue NW, in June.

For Wong, Little Bon Bon is a way to continue his family's hospitality legacy in Canada — in a neighbourhood where many Chinese immigrants started their new life in Edmonton. Wong's great-grandparents emigrated to Canada from China in the early 20th century. His great-grandfather escaped railway labour to work as a tea boy at the Fairmont Hotel in Victoria, before opening his own hotel in Stonewall, Manitoba. Wong's grandfather owned Arthur Tavern in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

"There are hundreds of people who talk about the atmosphere and his food," Jason said of his grandfather. "There's an item he served in his restaurant that are called Bon Bons — deep-fried beef short ribs. They were popularized by him in his restaurant, and they're part of Chinese Canadiana. Little Bon Bon is an homage to him."

Most of the menu items for the new shop, such as a cookie-crumb-encrusted scoop of ice cream that's a sweet version of a bon bon, will be exclusive to this location. Wong said Little Bon Bon will debut 12 new flavours, including a much-requested soy sauce ice cream with a caramel ribbon, and one inspired by his grandfather. "My Grandpa Wong would eat a ridiculous amount of chocolate. Grandma Wong would laugh because he would come home with so much fudge and brownies. So, we are making a Grandpa Wong Superfudge ice cream."

Meanwhile, two limited-time feature flavours will draw inspiration from the neighbourhood: A Vietnamese coffee-flavoured ice cream, made using coffee concentrate from Van Loc, and Kalina's Cotton Candy, named after the resident daughter of Chinatown, child of Kim Fat Market owner Phong Luu.

Wong also promises "extensive" coffee, with espresso-based drinks on the menu plus feature drinks. While the couple's current plan is to open in the afternoon and into the evening, they are happy to shift based on feedback. "It's whatever the community tells us they want coffee and ice cream," said Wong. "If they want early coffee, they'll get early coffee."

There will be seating in the space, including a bench along the window. At present, there are no plans for a patio due to the narrow sidewalk and high volume of foot traffic outside.

Wong's vision for Chinatown is one with more vibrant streets, something he was used to in Toronto's Chinatown growing up. "[Edmonton's] Chinatown is a unique place to have such a concentration of cultures in a 10-block radius," said Wong. "There's a lot of great things to experience, and we'd like to add to the incredible food and culture that is down here."

Wong is also eager to challenge perceptions of value associated with food in Chinatown, especially when compared with mainstream or European counterparts. "People expect to pay 50% less for goods down here," Wong said. "Those things bother us to no end. This is my other hope — for businesses not to undervalue the things they make and create for the community and the people who travel down here."

Through the process of opening Little Bon Bon, Wong's 14-year-old daughter has taken an interest to learn more about her family history. It's a curiosity Wong wants to inspire in all visitors to the shop. "Our daughter is having conversations with her grandparents, searching for more stories and heritage," Wong said. "We hope to spark a little bit of that with everyone through something as simple and fun as ice cream."