By Elima Pangorang
People are going crazy for Banan’s vegan-based menu, offering treats that are both tasty and good for the mind, body and soul. The laid-back cafe, founded by high school friends Matt Hong, Zak Barry and Luke Untermann, features a menu that is dairy-free.
“One unique thing about our product is that bananas are known in the vegan world as an alternative way to eat ice cream,” explained Barry. “(We serve) a dairy-free soft serve with a base of locally grown bananas, and then from there, we’ll add other ingredients like acai or chocolate to make our flavors. Every flavor starts with a base of bananas that adds that really creamy ice cream-like texture.”
The idea of Banan came about following the trio’s college years, when they were deciding what they wanted to do moving forward. As best friends, they already knew they wanted to do something together, it was just a matter of finding what it was. One day, the idea just “fell into their laps,” as Barry put it, when a friend of a friend introduced them to this new (banana-based) way to make ice cream — that is, it was new to them. After falling in love with the mere simplicity of it all, the men also found out that Hawaii is the only state that commercially grows and sells bananas in the whole U.S., which is a great way to stay in the islands and also support local farmers.
In addition to its vegan ice cream options, guests of Banan can partake in an array of smoothies, coffees and teas made with local and organic ingredients.
At Banan, Hong, Barry and Untermann believe in treating the employees with the same respect they expect staff to treat customers, and the result is a very happy workplace.
“For us, the business was founded on friendship and that’s been a main ingredient of Banan,” shared Barry. “There’s definitely this really strong sense of community between staff — we work hard together, but also play hard. We definitely encourage people to bring their own flavor in the work environment — be weird and be yourself.”
Barry explained that as a business, one could say that Banan is three-fold. It caters to customers, employees and the environment and the trio was able to find a way to expertly blend them together.
For example, the founders and a few workers will go out to some of the farms that Banan sources its produce from, and they will help the owners harvest the fruit and vegetables and even do general work around the farm, like cleaning. The additional work put in by Banan personnel turns around to the customers who can enjoy extremely fresh ingredients prepared by the extra efforts of those who serve it, and to top it all off, it helps the team to bond and the land to regrow.
In another instance, every quarter, Banan will gather a bunch of employees and have a Makapuu Sunrise Party. Firing up the grill, tacking on a few extra stoves and riding waves together makes this get-together a favorite among team members. And, of course, as they love to give back to the land and community, the group also does a beach cleanup.
There’s also more to it than getting down and dirty in the fields. Banan’s company party allows all employees to attend, as all the locations shut down for the day and the founders rent out a couple of houses to host the party. Barry mentioned fun games they play where winners can earn a small raise.
As a result of the camaraderie, good vibes and fun that Banan nurtures with employees, it has received five-star reviews across the board from Banan staff as one of the best places they’ve worked.
Swirl master Makai Lee Graham of the University store has been working at Banan for three years now and noted he is thankful to Banan for helping him to grow as a person and a worker.
“It gets pretty fast paced around here,” he said. “I say I’ve grown (as a worker) in my ability to handle stress. And honestly, growing as a person and just seeing how this operation is, getting to see these guys (the founders) day-to-day, it’s inspiring; like I think I could be something like that as well.”
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LOCATION: 1810 University Ave., Honolulu (plus three other locations islandwide, and mobile event truck)
FOUNDERS: Matt Hong, Zak Barry, Luke Untermann
NOTEWORTHY: Banan just rolled out a brand new food item that is winning the hearts of diners. The Ulu Waffles are being served at the University location from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Founder Matt Hong explains it as the feeling of eating ice cream and waffles, but really it’s bananas and waffles, whose main ingredient is ulu. It comes with toppings like strawberries and, of course, bananas.
PHOTOS BY ANTHONY CONSILLIO