1. Don’t go into business with friends.
2. Don’t go into the food business.
Two points of advice that business school graduates are bestowed with as they enter the exciting and daunting entrepreneur roller coaster. It’s advice backed by long-standing results of failure, as partnerships attempt to parlay years of friendship and fun ideas into actual business. As Zak Barry, one of four co-founders of Banán recalls this advice, the boyish smile that illuminates his face, holds hints of satisfaction, and also disbelief.
HEY, THIS IS CRAZY…
“Banana ice cream, sounds so crazy,” says Barry. After seeing a friend’s cousin making something similar in her own kitchen Barry says, “We were stoked on the simplicity and the taste of it and couldn’t wait to start making it in our own kitchens. We wanted to bring it to the masses.”
This idea of a single-ingredient, dairy-free treat has catapulted Banán and its partners from a food truck, to several local eateries, including one abroad, in four short years. Their “crazy” idea only seemed crazy for a brief period as family members were quick to support this adventurous risk. “Our parents told us to go for it,” says Barry. In fact, two of the four co-founders have parents who started and run their own businesses. All parents offered not only support, but advice backed by decades of experience.
From the start, the friends’ commitment to the product and what it could do for the food industry drove them to keep going.
Their passion to turn an idea into a profitable business while also positively affecting local agriculture motivated and inspired them, and their friendship kept the work fun. “From that first moment we tried it, we just knew it was something we needed to do,” Barry recalls.
As a farm-to-table delicacy business, Banán hopes to close the food cycle by supporting local farmers and agriculture, and also create more “table-to-farm” benefits by providing resources back to the farms. “We compost 100% of our food waste and provide it to farmers for plant and animal food,” Barry says.
Although their friendship was a catalyst for starting the business, it is truly the passion they have for their product and what it can do to change the food industry that gets them up in the morning and drives them to create partnerships around the globe.
BUT HERE’S THE FIRST FOOD TRUCK…
With a buy-in of $500 each, the group purchased a used 1977 Love’s Bakery food truck and spent the next 3-4 months planning and rehabbing what would become their first place of business. Once they found their Monsarrat Avenue location and made the truck a fixture, the business became real. “That was the jumping off the cliff moment. From that point, there wasn’t any turning back,” says Barry. “We just had to keep on going, learning and improving. This was something we were committed to and believed in.”
Though not adverse to the traditional brick and mortar business, the truck provided a less expensive way for the group to start and manage funds. “It wasn’t glamorous,” says Barry, “but it put us in a location that allowed us to be surrounded by a lifestyle we wanted to represent.”
The momentum of the food truck business on Monsarrat took them to Manoa where a kick-start campaign, funded by community support, helped them launch the second site – a site where many businesses have failed.
To many, it would appear to be another “crazy” idea, but the Banán boys secured their largest space at Manoa and welcomed the success they quickly received.
SO TRY SOME MAYBE?!
Barry acknowledges that the business growth has been quick but it wasn’t without some doubt and hardship: “In the beginning we didn’t have the nice wood covered seating areas we do now. It was pop-up tents in a parking lot, and us, sweating in a food truck.” From little to no income generation for the first six months, to speculation and naysayers, Barry admits that working 14-15 hours a day in a food truck after recently graduating from a prestigious business school was “a little depressing.” The process of making the product was also complicated.
“We didn’t even know if we could teach someone else to do it,” recalls Barry.
The group learned that in order for the business to survive they needed to become more efficient, streamline the product development line, and simplify in order to teach others. They took a multi-day, complicated process of freezing and preparing the fruit, down to a system that is easy to learn and operate in any location. “It took a lot of product development to get us to where we are. Besides our love for the product, we always believed that this product wasn’t available to everyone, but we knew that everyone should have it,” asserts Barry.
As of 2018, Banán has four sites on O’ahu and one abroad, and each co-founder has settled into roles that best suit their background and expertise. Barry handles the back-end functions of the business like human resources while the others oversee real estate, development, operations, and accounting.
“Friendship is what really keeps us going through the tough times,” says Barry. “Friendship, the belief in our product, and our mission.”
Though he is not actively working behind the fruit bar anymore, Barry can still hold his own and get back to the roots of the business. Cutting and preparing the most colorful dishes, drizzling, sprinkling…making the most perfect swirl of delicious fruit ice cream, a grin illuminating his face. The grin of success: maybe. The grin of humility, hard work, passion: likely.
Banán: WOW the f**** out of people. Every bowl you craft may be that person’s entire experience at Banán, so make it epic, make it artful, and have fun making ‘em!
Written by Chelsey Flanagan