Manipal is home to a plethora of eateries catering to all types of cravings; be it a canteen you can grab a quick bite from or a posh fine-dine restaurant. But there are only a few where you can sit and unwind for hours and have a nice conversation while enjoying a good meal. Banana Mango has been one of those few places since its opening in Manipal.
Given the inconspicuousness of the place, not everyone in Manipal knows about Banana Mango. But those of us who have been to this café before would definitely agree that stepping into it is like stepping into a tiny fairyland, far away from the rest of the world. Everything from the paintings on the walls and the fairy lights to the quirky seating arrangements has a surrealistic feel to it. There is something about those decorative metal trunks and the hand-drawn menu cards which makes you feel at home. And the unique and delicious menu is just the cherry on top.
But as they say, all good things must come to an end, right? As clichéd as that statement is, it is true in this case and Banana Mango is set to close down in June. As a celebration of the café’s journey, MTTN brings to you an interview of its owners – Jennifer and Andrew Marshall. Andrew, who hails from Manchester, told us about how it had always been his dream to own a café. Jennifer, who used to live in Delhi talked about her love for cooking. Here are few other excerpts from the conversations.
MTTN: What brought you to Manipal?
Jennifer: We didn’t think of it as a good idea to open the café in Delhi. We wanted to open it in a smaller city where people would be somewhat nicer. And there was also my cousin who used to study here in WGSHA. He would talk about Manipal relentlessly. So, while visiting Gokarna we dropped by to see Manipal and we really liked it.
Andrew: Manipal being a student town, I really liked the feel of it. It reminded me of my favourite cities in the UK – Liverpool and Edinburgh, which are student cities as well.
MTTN: What were the obstacles you faced in your journey of starting and running a café?
Andrew: The language was definitely a major obstacle.
Jennifer: As a person who can speak Hindi, I was really confident about it at the start. But then, not everyone knows Hindi here. At the end of the day, I would be exhausted translating back and forth between him (Andrew) and the local vendors and workmen. And the next big obstacle was this place in itself – it had no doors and the walls were all black. Some of the students who’ve been coming here from the start have witnessed its transformation. We had to start from the scratch, from painting the walls to planning the wiring and fixtures. And there came the language problem again, for we were required to convey our ideas to the painters, electricians, and carpenters.
Andrew: We even had the furniture here specially made as we couldn’t find ready-made ones the way we imagined. After spending a lot of time on Pinterest we ourselves designed them.
MTTN: You have a very different menu system with a limited number of dishes. What’s the idea behind that?
Jennifer: We serve gourmet food in our café and we really wanted to focus on its quality. Each ingredient’s quality, even something as simple as that of the oil used can bring a huge difference to the taste. And we also freshly prepare the dishes every day. So, emphasizing on the quality and the method of cooking definitely takes a lot of time and effort and we can do that efficiently when we have less number of dishes.
Andrew: Most of the places have massive menus with not much emphasis on the creativity of the dishes. What’s the point of having so many dishes which taste just the same?
Jennifer: Also, one of the major reasons was that we couldn’t find many cooks good enough for our standards in terms of maintaining hygiene, or the quality and taste of the food. So, most of the times I ended up doing all the cooking.
MTTN: What is the signature dish in your café?
Jennifer: We have a dish called ‘Emerald Isle Chicken’ which is popular among both the Indian and the Malaysian crowd.
Andrew: It’s one of Jennifer’s own creations.
Jennifer: It is Andrew’s favourite dish. Mine is ‘Chow-chow’.
MTTN: What’s the most interesting compliment you’ve received from your customers?
Andrew: A lot of people leave us nice messages saying that they love the place and the food. Some of the best compliments are not really the things they say, but it’s getting to see how they clearly enjoy the place – instead of just leaving after finishing their food, they would take a lot of pictures and selfies at different corners.
Jennifer: We once had a customer who came in just after we opened at 6.30 and stayed till the closing time at 10pm. That was a compliment in itself.
MTTN: Having lived in Manipal for over a year, what do you love the most about this town?
Jennifer: I think that the people here are more polite and nicer, in general. Excluding certain instances, the shopkeepers and auto-guys just don’t blindly hike up the price seeing him (Andrew). That is a welcome change, seeing how we’ve experienced it often in other places like Delhi and Goa.
Andrew: We also love the beauty of this town. The beaches and the countryside are great for travel, especially after the monsoon when every place is covered in greenery.
MTTN: What are your closing thoughts on this café’s journey so far?
Jennifer: The most important thing is that we were really passionate about starting this café had a strong faith in our concept. We’re glad that people understood that concept.
Andrew: We planned it out to be an evening café for people to come and chill-out. We were never really into advertising ourselves as well, as we believe in the power of word-of-mouth. Rather than chasing profit, running this café was more of a lifestyle for us and we really enjoyed it.
The last functioning day of Banana Mango will be the 9th of June. While it comes as a sad news to Manipalites, a group of enthusiastic students – Rangan Viveganandan, Tanvi Kejriwal, and Chaitanya Doshi (who are also devoted fans of this café) have decided to take-over the place, and start a new café which would retain Banana Mango’s quintessence. We wish them the best of luck and hope all the success for their venture.
– Written by Sindhuri Sriraman
– Photography by Prateek Mansingh
– Interviewed by Kezia Tyagi and Sarthak Bhardwaj