Over the years, Baldwin Park alleyway neighbors AJ Campofiore and Francisco ‘Chico’ Mendonça’s friendship allowed them to cultivate a vision for their Corrine Drive restaurant, Bem Bom.
When two Baldwin Park residents first met in the alley between their homes years ago, they had no idea their budding friendship would lead to them becoming restaurateurs.
AJ Campofiore and Francisco “Chico” Mendonça are the business partners behind Bem Bom, a Mexican and Portuguese restaurant on Corrine Drive. They also happen to be neighbors connected by an alleyway between their homes.
Campofiore and Mendonça both moved their families to Baldwin Park in 2011. Campofiore, Bem Bom’s managing partner, is originally from Connecticut. Mendonça, Bem Bom’s chef and founder, was raised in Portugal but moved to Baldwin Park from Dallas, Texas.
Mendonça, a classically trained French chef with more than 25 years of experience in culinary arts, moved to the Orlando area to help open another local restaurant. He soon realized he was meant to create his own concept. That’s when Bem Bom — which means “good good” in Portuguese — was born.
“I said, ‘I want to do something that I can depend on myself and don’t have to answer to anybody,’” he says. “I’m just going to serve what I want to serve and let the customer dictate whether they like it or not. Food trucks were just starting in Orlando. … I was looking at them and saying, ‘What kind of business could I do for myself?’ People seemed to have fun with the food trucks. I said, ‘That’s really amazing.’ It was only its infancy in Orlando.”
He and his wife bought their first food truck soon, and Bem Bom quickly grew a large base of loyal customers. Drawing on his culinary training, Mendonça decided to offer both Mexican and Portuguese cuisine inspired by both countries’ fresh, traditional fare.
The food truck was a huge success, and many customers who visit Bem Bom’s brick-and-mortar location today began eating Mendonça’s cuisine when he first introduced his food truck. But little did he know that some of the most exciting — and some of the most grueling — chapters in Bem Bom’s book were yet to come.
BALDWIN PARK TO BEM BOM
Growing up as neighbors in Baldwin Park, Campofiore and Mendonça’s children played together frequently. It was only natural that their parents became good friends, too.
“The husbands and wives would hang out when Chico wasn’t working and I wasn’t traveling for work,” Campofiore says. “We’d socialize and have cocktails. We’d throw these big back alley parties; we’d have live music and the food truck. It was fun times.”
Campofiore, an entrepreneur at heart, had previously owned concepts, while Mendonça had the restaurant experience. Soon, Campofiore and Mendonça began formulating a plan to expand Bem Bom’s reach in the community.
On New Year’s Day in 2016, Campofiore signed the lease for the restaurant’s location on Corrine Drive. Things were moving along, but little did the two know what was in store for them. It began with circulating through a few different contractors for various reasons. There were many roadblocks along the way.
“We were coming across all this stuff; it was crazy,” Campofiore says. “The clock kept ticking, and the worst thing for us was we didn’t own the building. We paid rent, lights, insurance, everything. … Everything that could happen did happen.”
Between acquiring all the proper permitting, hiccups with contractors and the overall extensive renovation, Bem Bom’s timeline to opening kept stretching longer and longer. Additionally, the building it’s housed in previously was a bank — thick, solid steel and cement that once served the purpose of security were part of the construction woes to be worked around.
In August 2018, it finally was time to open.
“We open the doors to a great crowd of people, full house, buzz and excitement,” Campofiore says.
Then, they ran into issues with the point-of-sales system that forced them to close within two hours of opening. They fixed the system that night and were ready to reopen the next day.
“Fortunately for us we had a strong friendship, because the pitfalls we hit trying to open this place was the Titanic hitting the iceberg multiple times — but it didn’t sink,” Campofiore says. “We just kept persevering. …We had help from people along the way. Those at our core never gave up on us — people believed in us.”
Those who visit or are familiar with Bem Bom know it radiates a vibrant and lively atmosphere. One wall is a collage, handmade by Mendonça, of various wine boxes. Another features Mexican ceramic tiles arranged in meticulous patterns. There’s a pink wall, a marbled kitchen counter and an outdoor patio with string lights.
But the driving factor, Campofiore says, always will be Mendonça’s food. Bem Bom’s menu sources from local farmers and fishermen and imports flavor-packed ingredients. The menu offers everything from piri-piri chicken, enchiladas and lamb burgers to quesadillas, tacos and various sandwiches.
“Knowing him and the way he cooked and the kind of chef he is, I wanted people to experience what he does outside of that food-truck environment, because he’s very talented,” he says. “A lot of food trucks are built by successful, seasoned chefs. When it came time to talk about a brick-and-mortar store … from a business standpoint, it’s a no-brainer.
We wanted to open a restaurant, do business, have fun … and serve the community. The best part for me was opening the doors. That was the happiest day.”
— Francisco “Chico” Mendonça
“I couldn’t be happier for him,” Campofiore says. “He’s very talented, and I like when people appreciate what he does. … I knew they needed to see what this guy could do, and here we are a year-and-a-half later, and they love what he does.”
Mendonça says he and Campofiore complement one another with their respective knowledge and talents. Mendonça likes to cook and is glad Campofiore takes care of the logistics.
“We wanted to open a restaurant, do business, have fun … and serve the community,” Mendonça says. “The best part for me was opening the doors. That was the happiest day. The community around here knew our struggles … and they stuck by us.”