The ‘new’ Bango Bowls getting set for huge Long Island expansion

Bango Bowls

Bango Bowls was fully ready for the pandemic.

It’s not as if the owners were glued to the news or something in late 2019. 

And no, there are no epidemiologists on staff. 

It was what the company did in the months prior to the COVID-19 outbreak that simply played well for what was to come.

“The pandemic and the shutdowns kind of really helped us,” said Ryan Thorman, one of the Bango Bowls founders.

Thorman says this somewhat sheepishly — with a sort of survivor’s guilt — knowing many of his fellow Long Island restaurateurs had been hurting at the time.

“But for us, it really did take things to the next level,” he said. “We had just launched our salads and improved our menus drastically. Nobody could sit and eat inside restaurants [in early 2020]. Meanwhile, on the restaurant technology end, we had already been focused on online ordering and delivery.

“So we were already set up to put our foot on the pedal.”

Now in 2022, with six full-service locations on Long Island and Westchester, the Bango Bowls chain that started selling açaí bowls out of a small former computer repair store in Massapequa Park will soon be undertaking a massive expansion.

Bango Bowls could work in any town,” Thorman said. “It’s a small footprint, a low-cost buildout, and a place that can serve three meals a day. We are 100 percent going to grow this concept.”

Speaking for the spirit of the ownership team, he added:

“We were never wired for one location.  We always wanted to grow the concept, but it takes time, process and a little evolution sometimes.”

The next location is slated to open in Westbury on Old Country Road.

Where they came from

Two of his childhood friends from Bayport, Joe Charchalis and James Bonanno, as well as Bonanno’s business partner in The Tap Room restaurants, Dave Johnson, first teamed with Thorman on the Bango Bowls venture in 2016.

The four opened the Massapequa Park location on New Year’s Day 2017.

“There was a line down the block from Day 1,” Thorman said.

At the time, this was the only spot in Nassau County dedicated to açaí bowls, so there was pent-up demand from those who might have gotten a taste of the berry bowls in Suffolk or the city.

The partners were onto something, but they knew they had to act quickly. Within a few short months, seemingly every Long Islander would know what about açaí bowls, which originated in Brazil before catching fire globally.

In the local food-business community, it was a bandwagon you had to jump on. Posters advertising açaí were soon going up in delis, coffee shops and even frozen yogurt places across Long Island.

“By late 2017, açaí bowls were everywhere,” Thorman recalled. “Yet there were a lot of people doing it poorly. Every deli was selling it, but it was mostly pre-made stuff, like scooping ice cream with additives to keep it from freezing.”

Bango Bowls kept its focus on quality, which for them meant texture and temperature.

“If it can’t hold its temperature, it’ll turn to soup very quickly, and if it gets too cold it will turn to ice” Thorman said.

Bango Bowls stayed busy despite the competition, he said, because of the company’s dedication to quality.

Growing pains

Throughout much of 2017, Throman would trek out to Long Island most nights to prep fruit for the next day.

It was that busy at the stores.

He would get back home to his wife in Manhattan around midnight or 1 a.m., then report to his full-time job at LinkedIn hours later.

By February of 2018, Bango Bowls had three more locations: East Setauket, Huntington Station and downtown Bay Shore.

At the same time, partners Bonanno and Johnson were trying to grow The Tap Room brand.

Everyone’s bandwidth was shrinking.

“We knew we had to move fast to grab market share, but we didn’t fully realize scaling a business that fast takes a lot of infrastructure,” he said. “Instead of one problem, you’ve got four problems.”

The business was getting too big to be anyone’s side hustle.

With his now-pregnant wife’s support, Thorman quit his job in New York in 2018 to lead Bango Bowls as CEO.

That’s when the changes happened, as well as huge investments.

“The quality of the rest of our offerings wasn’t matching the quality of the açaí bowls,” Thorman had found upon closer examination of the stores.

For instance, the poke bowl recipes weren’t so hot.

The chicken for the salads was pre-cooked and served cold.

“”Realizing all that was a pivotal moment for us,” he said. “We really changed the business model in October of 2019.”

The ‘new’ Bango Bowls

“We basically turned ourselves into a scratch kitchen, where we’re making everything in-house,” he said. “Dressings are made in-house. We’re roasting chicken in our ovens, roasting vegetables, making corn bread croutons, marinating everything here, freshly cutting fish every day.”

The latest menu additions, he said, include salads that are water cooler worthy and the instantly popular flatbread paninis — or what Bango Bowls calls Flaninis.

They also developed chef-curated warm grain bowls and a few versions of their avocado toasts. Some of the fan-favorite salads and warm grain bowls include the Sweet Potato Cobb and Harvest Bowl.  

“For us, it was all about overcoming that ‘veto vote,’ as we say.”

What that means is this: If there’s a family of four and not everyone feels like having an açaí bowl, maybe just the kids or teenagers will. Mom can have a salad. Dad can have a Flanini

This way, no one person vetoes the entire idea to head over to Bango Bowls, he explained.

“We’re now more conducive to the entire family,” Thorman said. “And the more families you can get in here,” the marketing expert says, “the better for your brand in the much longer run.”

Bango Bowls lets its mission statement guide all company decisions, he added.

Everything has to pass the mission statement test:

“Fresh, flavorful, fast and friendly. All day, every day.”

“Taste matters to us. We don’t want to sell anything that’s bland or without seasoning, like you might find at a hardcore health food takeout chain,” Thorman said. “Our food is good for you while not sacrificing on flavor.”

That’s the immediate goal, to serve fresh, flavorful food — and fast.

“We want to give as many people access to a better tasting, better for you takeout option,” Thorman says.

“And we want to do it in nearly every town on Long Island.”

Top: Bango Bowls CEO Ryan Thorman at the company’s Bay Shore location, which opened at 68 E. Main St. in February of 2018. (Credit: Andrew Hart) Scroll down for Justin Bernard menu photos. Follow for updates on the Bango Bowls expansion into Westbury and beyond.