Bango Bowls was first designed to be an açaí store after a conversation between friends turned into a business venture. In 2017, the chain opened its first location. The owners, four lifelong friends, decided that they would expand the reach for Bango Bowls and started selling other bowls that were all “good for you.”
Fast-casual Bango Bowls is part of Upstream Hospitality Group, which also owns the friends’ first concept, casual-dining Tap Room, which has six locations and was founded in 2011.
Bango Bowls currently has seven locations, all in New York State, but the brand has just finished the paperwork to start franchising. The Massapequa Park, N.Y.-based brand is hoping it can take its mission on-the-go to other places outside of the New York metro area eventually. For now, they want to saturate the market in their hometown.
The first location of Bango Bowls was in a 300-square-foot shop next to a Tap Room location. The response was so positive that the owners decided that they should take the concept and run with it.
“I would say we were doing $6,000 a day out of 300 square feet,” said Ryan Thorman, CEO and co-founder of Bango Bowls. “It was crazy, you know, so we were like, ‘Oh my god, maybe we’re onto something.’”
They opened three locations within the first year before switching from strictly açaí to a better-for-you bowl concept.
“Our big differentiator is that we provide a diverse menu for the entire family,” Thorman said. “We have an option for everyone. It’s not just a singular item; we really tried to proactively fight that veto vote.”
That menu includes açaí bowls, of course, but also cold bowls, warm bowls, “flaninis,” which are sandwiches pressed between two pieces of flatbread, poke bowls, salad bowls, smoothies, and toasts.
Before starting Bango Bowls, Thorman was in a different world — technology and marketing. His previous job was at LinkedIn, and he used his tech knowledge to help Bango Bowls succeed in the long run.
When the chain first started, he was focused on the marketing of the concept and, as it has grown, he’s become focused on the tech stack.
“I always say that restaurants are probably 10 years behind the tech space,” he said. “You’re starting to see how much technology is coming into play with restaurants. So, my understanding of digital marketing and technology and software has really helped us. We’re definitely a tech-forward company.”
The chain has online ordering, but that’s not all. Bango Bowls is using some innovative cooking tools to keep its kitchens easy to operate.
Bango Bowls uses the Rational Combi Oven as its sole piece of equipment to cook all the warm bowls, toasts and the flaninis. This oven keeps the units at about 1,000 square feet and ensures that the laborious tasks many employees have to do in the kitchen are eliminated.
“We have no line cooks, we have no chefs, everything we do is in these ovens that are programmed from a back office, so the staff just really has to focus on prepping items and not executing items,” he said.
However, Thorman cautions other restaurants about using technology.
“I always say that, even though I have a tech background, you have to be careful with technology in the food business as well,” he said.
He means that restaurants shouldn’t focus on technology and avoid the human element, and that getting too much into technology can get operators caught up in the weeds. While Bango Bowls views itself as a tech-forward company, it ultimately sells people food and that’s what it prefers to be known for.
This isn’t just a trend, Thorman said. He thinks healthy eating is the future and that franchisees will flock to their brand for the health halo.
“People care about what they put in their body,” he said. “They care about how they feel. You see more and more people giving up alcohol or giving up smoking or just doing things that make you feel better about yourself. And it’s not a trend, this is just where the world is going.”