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Bon Temps in the Arts District closes permanently, a casualty of the shutdown

Bon Temps
Patrons dining at Bon Temps. Chef and owner Lincoln Carson has decided to close the restaurant permanently.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Less than a year ago, Lincoln Carson opened Bon Temps, a modern American restaurant in the Arts District that quickly received local and national acclaim.

But the restaurant won’t survive to see its first anniversary. The career pastry chef said Wednesday that he had closed Bon Temps permanently, a casualty of the shutdown forced by the COVID-19 crisis.

“We’re a new place, and regardless of how well we were written about, it was a big build-out, and the costs have been formidable in the first year,” Carson said in a phone interview. “In an industry with notorious margins, the expenses have only become tighter and tighter. I looked hard at our fixed costs and saw this prolonged closure wasn’t something we could come back from.”

Bon Temps
Lincoln Carson photographed in Bon Temps’ dining room in August 2019.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Bon Temps ranked No. 22 on our list of L.A.’s 101 Best Restaurants that Patricia Escárcega and I published in December. Pastries like strawberry-ricotta danish and a cream cheese-stuffed croissant covered in everything bagel seasoning were instantly some of the city’s finest morning treats. At dinner, a celebratory platter of truffled chicken with creamed leeks might have preceded Carson’s spectacular finale of caramel-cloaked St. Honoré cake.

The cake had recently reappeared in miniature form; it was part of the to-go menus Carson offered during quarantine. Sunday was the restaurant’s last day of business.

“The goal of takeout was really to not be forgotten, and to keep our staff on medical insurance, which at least is paid for through the end of May,” Carson said.

At Bon Temps, Lincoln Carson’s modern American restaurant in Downtown L.A., go for some of the city’s best desserts.

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Part of his decision to close permanently was a clear-eyed appraisal of how Bon Temps might operate as L.A. restaurants eventually reopen; there are expected to be strict social-distancing guidelines that could include servers in masks, paper menus and tables spaced six feet apart.

“I took a walk through the dining room imagining the layout,” Carson said. “When each seat is worth hundreds of dollars in nightly revenue and we were already skimming along to break even and reach a profit — it didn’t seem feasible.”

The shutdown has given him a sobering view of the restaurant industry. “I don’t have a lot of hope that restaurants will come back from this as they were before,” he said. “I think we need to take a hard look at wage disparity. Maybe there’s a service fee-included model, and diners choose to understand the expense of that model or they choose not to go out. We’re going to have to change something for staffs to thrive and for the industry to endure.”

Connections with customers, Carson said, proved the brightest light in the restaurant’s bleak final weeks. “People showed so much appreciation for what we were doing; they told us they felt like we were cooking especially for them.”

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Bon Temps
Strawberry and ricotta danish, a signature of Bon Temps’ pastry selections.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

“It’s funny,” he said. “On the recent weekends we’ve been doing a takeout ‘bake sale,’ we’ve made three or four times as much on pastries than we did when I was selling them on weekday mornings in our first months of business. Maybe it was just that traffic and parking were easier?”

Carson has 30 years of top-of-the-food-chain experience: His resume includes Le Bernardin in Manhattan and Picasso in Las Vegas, eight years as corporate pastry chef for the Michael Mina Group, and consultant for Valrhona chocolate. Locally, he worked at Superba Food & Bread in Venice before opening Bon Temps.

As for what’s next, Carson isn’t sure.

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“Personally, I’m feeling a little defeated. I feel like I let a lot of people down. My daughter was born during the build-out; she’s 2 1/2 now,” he said. “I need to take a breath and see what happens with the reopenings. Hopefully we’ll stay in L.A. I have some ideas and if I can drum up the money to get something off the ground … I’ll try.”


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