Located at 1512 E. 53rd Street, Bonne Santé Health Foods has a history on 53rd Street that goes back more than 40 years. Owner Kristofer Braaten is the second generation of this family-owned business.
Braaten, 51, spent a period of his childhood in Europe, where his father, who was a professor at Hyde Park’s Lutheran School of Theology for more than 30 years, worked on his theological studies. When the Braatens returned to Hyde Park in 1969, his mother, LaVonne, was unable to find the healthful, chemical-free foods she had become accustomed to in England. In 1971, she opened Hyde Park Health Foods at 1360 E. 53rd Street. The store closed when LaVonne expanded to four locations in Chicago’s south suburbs, but she missed the Hyde Park community and reopened here in 1984 as Bonne Santé Health Foods at 1457 E. 53rd Street.
After taking over the family business in 1992, Braaten moved the store to its current location at 1512 E. 53rd Street in 1999. Today, Bonne Santé (French for “good health”) is a neighborhood gem, with 16 local staff members who are well educated in the store’s extensive stock of supplements and herbs, alternative groceries, freshly prepared foods, teas, energy bars, homeopathic medicines, beauty products, cleaning supplies, and an extensive juice bar.
We asked Braaten about his family’s multi-decade legacy on 53rd Street:
What is it like to be part of a family business?
Being able to continue what my mother built years ago brings an enormous sense of pride and responsibility for the valued customers who have looked to Bonne Santé as a true source for healing and alternative choices for their health.
Who are your customers?
Our customers come from every age group and include many people from Hyde Park, the North Side, South Side, and south suburbs.
How do you promote your business?
All of our business promotion is on a very local level, mainly through churches, not-for-profit groups, and University of Chicago activities. I believe that when you put out an honest and good product, customer word of mouth is the best source of advertising.
What area of your business is experiencing the most growth?
We have been preparing fresh foods from our kitchen for the past two years now, making hot, fresh, healthy lunch foods for all the workers in the neighborhood. Our lunch service has become so popular that we have had to hire extra people to keep up with the demand.
What do you enjoy most about 53rd Street?
I grew up a few blocks from the store, and since then I have appreciated the eclectic and electric environment this diverse neighborhood brings. There are few places in the world where you will find such an interesting mix of people and cultures. I have many conversations with customers and have enjoyed learning from them over the years. I do hope that they have learned things from my wonderful staff and me over the years as well.
What is your favorite part about being a Hyde Park business owner?
Owning a business that promotes good health is incredibly rewarding. To see the people of Hyde Park and surrounding areas come in and trust what we have to say and give them choices that can be difficult to come by brings a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment. I count my blessings each day to have been given the chance to be part of an ever-changing and interesting industry on 53rd Street. I live in Bucktown now, but I’m always running errands around Hyde Park, and you can often find me at the Midway Plaisance ice rink with my daughter in the winter, or the UChicago tennis courts in the summer.