Banán – Playful, Profound, and Picky Approved
Bright yellow bananas are an abundant local produce in the Hawaiian Islands that became the basis for delicious and diet-friendly Banán dishes. But the Banán story goes beyond naturally-sweet and refreshing banana-based creations – to a story of friendship and fun, of surfing and sustainability.
A youth filled with fond memories of little league soccer, mind-altering hikes, and surf sessions sadly ended when friends Zak Barry, Matt Hong, Luke Untermann, and Galen McCleary departed to different universities across the mainland. However, after graduating from college, Zak found himself reunited with Matt – sleeping on his couch in Santa Cruz, California while also brainstorming entrepreneurial ideas for a post-college job.
One day they ventured over to another friend’s house and tried a traditional vegan treat, banana-based ice cream. “We immediately feel in love because of the simplicity of the ingredients: bananas and water,” says Zak. “And besides that, with bananas being local, we saw a way to support Hawai’i farmers and boost the local economy.”
With inspiration and a local-based vision, the boys moved home to O'ahu and built their Banán headquarters (“HQ”) outside of Matt’s parents’ house. In between surf sessions, they destroyed their parents’ kitchens while creating the perfect blend of bananas and water for the signature smooth Banán soft serve.
At HQ, the friends discovered additional Banán flavors, including Greens (bananas, ginger, mint, spirulina), and added toppings like gluten free puffed quinoa, strawberries, shaved coconut, and pineapple to develop delicious creations like the Riss Moore (acai-banana Banán, papaya, pineapple, strawberries, granola or puffed quinoa, shaved coconut, honey), named after three-time world champion surfer and co-owner Luke’s wife, Carissa Moore.
In the early business planning days, the boys also solidified their mission – to provide a healthy, wholesome, and affordable meal made with fresh produce picked right from the islands. They visited local farms and created partnerships to source Banán ingredients: bananas from Sugarland Farms in Kunia, O'ahu; pineapples from Maui Pineapple; liliko'i (passion fruit) from Frankie’s Nursery in Waimanalo, O'ahu; dark chocolate from The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory on the Big Island. They also found non-GMO papayas on Moloka'i at Sugarland Farms, which they used to create a beautiful, easily compostable bowl or “boat” to hold the Banán and toppings.
“For us, the core of our mission is really thinking about food miles and how far food travels to get to Hawaii,” explains Zak. “If we can source from local farmers in Hawaii and build those relationships, that is what gets us really excited as business owners since we know local farmers can provide a better product for our consumers.”
With a menu filled with paleo, dairy free, vegan, and gluten free made-to-order options and partnerships with farms across the islands, the friends were ready for business. And after a Craigslist listing for a $2000 truck and a paint party, they opened on December 27, 2014 in a parking lot at the base of Diamond Head.
Now three and a half years later, Banán has three more locations on O'ahu: across from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, at Kahala Mall, and in a Waikīkī beach access walk lined with surfboards.
With expansion, the boys have added additional flavors to excite customers’ taste buds. ‘Olena Banán unites bananas, ginger, and black pepper with turmeric from Yogarden Farms in Waimanalo, O'ahu and Luluku Farms in Kāneʻohe, O'ahu. At a farmers’ market, they met Macnella, a nutella-like spread from Ahuala Farms on the Big Island, and with a dash of cacao and a bunch of local bananas, the Chocolate Mac Banán was born.
Banán grom team riders @kiki_waikiki @sammy.rust @sophia_the_surfer_girl. PHOTO: @banan
In addition to the soft serve swirls, Banán also offers drinkable creations. The Kalaha Mall location has fun floats, mixing any flavor of Banán with matcha tea, nitro cold brew coffee, or “Golden Milk” (coconut milk, turmeric, black pepper, and cinnamon).
All the locations except the truck offer thirst-quenching, pure ingredient smoothies. The Mana Smoothie blends local bananas with macadamia nuts, honey, plant-based protein powder, and coconut milk.
“We are currently revamping our smoothie options,” says Zak. “Our customers have been asking for smoothie boosts, so we are experimenting with mushroom mixes, maca, chia seeds, goji, and more.”
Papaya boat with @oliviahinchley. PHOTO: @banan
Visit any of the Banán locations, and you will be greeted by a Banán employee or “nana” who shares the four friends’ passion for food, farming, and fun. The Banán ‘ohana dances together at least once per month at a Makapu‘u sunrise party and gets their hands dirty volunteering at a local farm – helping harvest crops from turmeric to lo‘i (taro).
“We see Banán as a platform for us to connect the people of Hawaii with the story of our food,” says Zak. “It is a fun and mindful way for us to get into schools and other places to get people talking about where their food is coming from. That is the main mission of the business. Banán has become the vehicle for that.”
Banán’s mission to serve environmentally-conscientious, local food led them to a connection with “Banana Gabe” on the GoFarm property in Wailua. “We are partnering with Banana Gabe and investing to start up a banana nursery,” explains Zak. “By cultivating and experimenting with different strands of bananas and agricultural techniques, we hope to find the best bananas for our ice cream. We also hope to help farmers across Hawaii who may have struggled with growing bananas due to local viruses.”
‘Olena farming. PHOTO: @banan
Whether at any of their four locations on O’ahu or pursuing off-island ventures (Banán will be on display at the Hawaii Festival in Osaka, Japan in July.), the foundation of four friends having fun and bringing local, healthy options to customers will remain.
“Where ever Banán is brought, we will always let the local agriculture shine,” says Zak.