How did Bongo Java get its name?
The Journey to Bongo Java is the name of an unpublished book by Ernest Hemingway that BJ fonder and wannabe creative writer found an unauthorized copy of in a Zambian bookstore ironically a few weeks after an original investor suggested it for completely different reasons. Bruce Gold thought Bongo Java connoted a 1960s style coffeehouse where Jack Kerouac sat around with his friends reciting poetry while someone wearing a beret and dark sunglasses played the bongo drums.
How did Fido get its name?
Originally, the company’s second café was going to be a fraction of the size and be a coffee roasting operation with drinks and pastries being sold I the front. The name was to be Bongo 2go. Just as we signed the lease for this 1,200 sq ft space, the pet shop that had been in the space for 50+ years suddenly vacated the 2,400 sq ft space next door. We grabbed the extra space, decided to add a café and suddenly needed a new name.
Various names were considered for this operation located in Hillsboro Village before we settled on paying tribute to the previous tenant. Jones Pet Shop left a darn cool neon sign that featured a cartoonish dog coming out of a dog house. After throwing away such names as The Village Café, 1812 (the café’s address) and The Gathering Place, we decided we wanted to name the café after the dog on the sign.
We then looked to coffee history for inspiration. Legend has it that a goat herder named Kaldi led his starving flock into a deep part of the forest. There, they found a cherry that no one had ever seen. Of course, we now know the seeds inside this cherry as coffee beans. Many cafes and coffee blends take their name from Kaldi or goats as a nod toward this legend.
We looked further into history and discovered that Kaldi had a dog who was the true hero of the story. It was his keen sense of smell that led Kaldi and the goats to the cherries. The dog was named Fido.Thus, we named our café after this dog who is too frequently omitted from the coffee legend.
Sidenote: The same space was also the original home of Bongo Java Roasting Co., which has moved several times and is now located on Tech Hill, inside the Alloy Development.
How did Grins get its name?When Vanderbilt University first approached us to open a Kosher vegetarian restaurant on campus we of course said No. Not even the founder’s love of doing stuff first could supersede his reluctance to take on such a project. Vanderbilt was insistent and made the deal more attractive and the Bongo team decided to take a chance. Our first manager/chef took the initiative to look up various words in Hebrew to find an appropriate name. Names like Yarkot (vegetable), Yarok (green) and Navti (sprouts) didn’t work. Not to be deterred, she modified her search to look at Yiddish words.
Grins is Yiddish for Vegetable.
It’s spelled like a smile, yet pronounced like a color (greens
Grins is Nashville’s first certified Kosher restaurant and oldest vegetarian restaurant. The company also owns Nashville’s oldest coffeehouse (Bongo Java), started the first coffee roasting café (Fido & Bongo Java Roasting Co. originally occupied the same location) and first Board Game Café (Game Point Café.)
Why do you spell Café Au Lait as Café O’Lei?Like Fido, this name comes from our attempt to correct history. From our research, the French got to name this common drink of brewed coffee with milk when a 100+ year international dispute was settled.
Café Au Lait translates to coffee with milk in French just as Café con Leche does in Spanish. Similarly, Italy has the caffe latte, Poland the kawa biala (white coffee) and koffie verkeer (incorrect coffee) in the Netherlands amongst many more.
The UN Standards of Food and Drink in a period when it believed standards would encourage international tourism tried for years to pick a single name. Yet these diplomats couldn’t find a diplomatic way to end the dispute.
The situation was made worse when Italy pulled a fast one by hiding a provision to assign the Café Latte to the drink made with espresso and steamed milk in a resolution that mainly dealt with fishing rights.
Eventually The UN Standards committee was disbanded and each country went about using their own term for similar drinks.
This history was part of a bigger lesson in World Economics our company founder took at the second of four universities he attended. Thus, he was sensitive when it came time to create Bongo’s first menu. He thus did a bit more digging into how coffee and milk first got mixed together. And what he found, was quite astounding and led to us to adopting our own standard name for this drink.
Turns out, soon after coffee was discovered in Ethiopia in the 5th Century, an Irish Explorer was traveling across the country trying to smuggle the plants to his home country. History didn’t record the name of the explorer, but historians have found references to “a man dressed in green who carried a plant with four clovers and stopped to dance by every river he passed by.”
The explorer was captured by the Ethiopian King and sentenced to die. The king granted his last wish to have a cup of coffee.
The king (as he frequently did) combined this last wish with that of another prisoner, a Hawaian woman named Leilani who was arrested for traveling without a proper visa (which in the 5th Century was rather difficult to obtain in Ethiopia). While there, she met and fell in love with Kaldi the goat herder who many credit with discovering coffee. While he escaped and was later found in Kenya trying to convince the government there to take credit for the birthplace of coffee by opening Kaldi-Land, she was caught and sentenced to die. Her last wish was for a glass of milk from Kaldi’s favorite goat.
From there, the reason for us naming our drink that combines coffee and milk becomes quite clear. We don’t claim as some do that in the mix up of the Explorer and Leilani’s successful escape some of her milk fell into his coffee and as a symbolic gesture the king drank it while his army unsuccessfully tried to recapture the pair. And we don’t pretend to know if it’s true the two fell in love, got married and moved to what is now Nashville to raise a family.
Yet, we do believe that these two people are worth remembering in history. And thus, we name our drink the Café O’Lei.