Bonelli’s Bistro offers Italian and Mediterranean fare in Kalispell, and at new public marketplace in Whitefish

Tony Loiacono recalls the aromatic ambiance of his childhood in Toronto, the tastes and textures of the Italian neighborhood baked into those formative years, and he remembers how it influenced his decision to open a cafe. Similarly, his wife Kerry “Kage” Harp-Loiacono’s three decades of restaurant experience and her creative flair as an artist provided the savvy to craft a unique menu featuring light, flavorful fare that was absent from the Flathead Valley.

But when the couple opened Bonelli’s Bistro in downtown Kalispell in 2009, it was an idea born more of desperation than of a gourmand’s devotion to dishing out tasty tack.

“We were both unemployed. We couldn’t find jobs. We were down and out,” Loiacono said. “Kage asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, ‘Well, I like to eat.’”

Despite the economic downturn, the couple took a risky leap of faith. They found a location at a former bakery, in a plaza across from Depot Park, and set about revamping the space.

“Everyone we talked to said, ‘You guys are nuts,’” Loiacono said. “We just took a huge leap and had a lot of faith that we could make it work.”

Within a month of opening Bonelli’s Bistro, the lunchtime thrum rose to the same fever pitch they’ve maintained ever since, sustained by a fixed cast of characters who eat there daily, as well as by patrons who wander in to the unassuming brick building having only heard whispers about the Italian-Mediterranean bistro serving Panini sandwiches, soups, salads, samplers and wraps.

Nearly every menu item comes with a gluten-free option, and the proprietors take care to locally source as much of their fresh ingredients as possible.

Bonellis Bistro Kalispell

Dani Minette, front, makes a note on an order while working at Bonelli’s Bistro on First Avenue East in Kalispell.

“We’ve discovered that people want this kind of food. There are a lot of people, whether they’re local or from big cities, who are food savvy. We’re trying to fill that flavor-niche,” Loiacono said.

In addition to previously running the Knead Café in Kalispell, Harp-Loiacono spent years in the restaurant business in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, Loiacono’s culinary expertise evolved through his mother’s recipes and in his own kitchen.

“It gives me a creative outlet, because I’m an artist and I love to create,” Harp-Loiacono said. “We really get creative with our soups. We go through a ton of soup.”

The restaurant has been so successful that the couple decided to open Zucca Italian Marketplace, occupying the brand new indoor Stumptown Marketplace in Whitefish.

The marketplace, the brainchild of David and Amy Gatton, is a place for a variety of vendors to showcase their wares, while several restaurants peddle food out of 300-square-foot booths.

Fashioned after the indoor markets popular in Italy, France and even San Francisco and Seattle, with a variety of fresh, local products available all in one place, the idea appealed to the Bonelli’s proprietors.

“The more we thought about it, the more we figured it would be a really good opportunity for us,” Loiacono said. “It’s a great location, great people and it’s the kind of community-based project we want to be part of.”

The building is located at 12 Spokane Ave. in Whitefish, and Loiacono said Zucca (Italian for “squash”) will feature a scaled-back breakfast and lunch menu similar to Bonelli’s, while offering more specials and salads, and still maintaining the staple of Paninis and wraps.

Bonelli's Bistro Kalispell

A bowl of seafood chowder.

Like Bonelli’s, Zucca will adhere to the farm-to-table concept that has made Bonelli’s so popular, and Loiacono said they refuse to give customers short shrift when it comes to fresh, healthful and local ingredients.

“We live in an area that promotes health. So we put that outdoor activity into that eating lifestyle and it kind of works,” he said. “We don’t put croutons on our salad. Our dressings are all homemade. There’s fresh lemon in the tabouli. The customers who are food savvy can really taste the difference. They know that the ingredients are fresh. We don’t cut the corners. It’s the little things like that that make the difference.”

One reason the couple is so committed to the customers is because, without their fierce loyalty, the debut of Bonelli’s would have been far more anxiety inducing.

“It’s just amazing, the loyalty of our customers,” he said.

As for the name, Loiacono said it was derived from a childhood nickname.

Although he had a voracious appetite, Loiacono grew up skinny, and so his peers invented the nickname “Bone.” To integrate his Italian roots, Loiacono gradually took on the name “Bonelli.”

Bonelli’s is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. It’s located at 38 First Ave. E. and can be reached at (406) 257-8669. Outdoor seating is available. The restaurant also serves breakfast, with an emphasis on light dishes such as tortes and pastries, coffee and tea.