Close shave for Ham-Bonz signature porker

Elk Rapids artist Anne Richards paints the sign outside Ham Bonz on Eighth Street in Traverse City in August 2017.

TRAVERSE CITY — New owners are ready to breathe new life into a restaurant closed since May 2019.

Leslie Bilbey and Josh Gray closed on the purchase of the former Ham Bonz restaurant on Sept. 2. The partners plan to open Oakwood Proper Burgers at 1108 E. Eighth St. early next year.

Bilbey and Gray, who call themselves spiritual partners, are looking to open the restaurant under its new name in February “give or take,” Bilbey said.

Part of the couple’s philosophy of “bringing new life to an old building” includes a makeover of the outside of the restaurant. Bilbey is encouraging fans of the iconic “pig detective” painting on the side of the building to get a picture of it before it is painted over in the coming weeks.

Gray, a forest fire officer at the Traverse City office of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, recently returned to the area after a stint battling wild fires on the West coast. He previously owned and operated Bistro Burger in Canton, Texas for nearly a decade.

When he took a job with the North Carolina Forest Service, Josh’s brother, Jeff Gray, took over that restaurant and still operates it after relocating a few miles away to Wills Point, Texas. Bilbey, a planning assistant with the city of Traverse City, said Jeff Gray will run the new restaurant when it opens.

Bilbey said the restaurant in Traverse City will feature locally-sourced beef using a 1952 Hobart meat grinder. She said handcut fries and shakes from a 1950s multimixer also will be featured at Oakwood Proper Burgers.

“It’s going to be very fresh, very tasteful and an invigorating experience,” Bilbey said.

Gray and Bilbey, who live east of the Grand Traverse County Civic Center, said they intend to promote a neighborhood restaurant with an emphasis on “walkability and bikeability.” She said an outdoor patio seating area on the east side of the building accessed through a patio door is also planned.

The 640-square-foot restaurant built in 1952 was listed with Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realtors. Sam Abood was the contact agent.

Recommended for you