They have a saying at Anna Bannanas: friends don’t let friends drink at Starbucks. To prove their commitment of saving hapless Portlanders from mediocre coffee and food, they’ve been open for over 6,000 consecutive days. Located in Portland’s up-and-coming St. John’s neighborhood you’ll find Anna Bannanas is a quiet spot to drink, eat and enjoy the surroundings.
Opened twelve years ago in St. Johns, this casual space was meant by owner Bryant Anderson to be a place where people could expect good food, good drink and good company. Surprisingly for a coffee shop owner, Anderson wasn’t always a coffee drinker.
“Coffee to me used to be something that you had to chuck down,” he says. “I didn’t drink coffee every day back then. All there was were the coffee people at Starbucks.”
Originally from Hawaii, Anderson moved here for college and, like so many others before him, fell in love with the unique beauty of Portland. Perhaps the rose city is one of the few places that can provide a decent challenge to Hawaii for the title of most majestic scenery.
After a few unsuccessful stints in sales he began a job working for the now defunct Paragon Cable. The gestation for his idea came when he was finally introduced to a coffee that properly wet his whistle.
“I lived in northwest [Portland] at the time and some friends that I had distributed this coffee,” he says. “It was the first time I’d really ever had good coffee and that’s when I started drinking coffee every day.”
The coffee Anderson speaks of is called Café D’arte, a company based out of Seattle. D’arte’s founder, Mauro Cipolla, is a third-generation Italian who spent time in Italy studying under the demanding tutelage of a fourth-generation master coffee roaster. Upon returning to the United States in 1985 he started Café D’Arte in his father’s garage.
Anderson soon realized that he was tired of his career trajectory. “I was in a situation where my boss was kind of like Steve Carrell in The Office. He was a clown and his boss was a total douche,” he deadpans.
With his mind constantly going back to the delicious coffee he’d been introduced to, Anderson decided to make his move. He would bring this product to Portland in retail style.
Having no experience in managing a business, Anderson decided not to bite off more than he could chew. “I opened a coffee cart back in ’93,” he explains. “Running a cart was on a small enough scale.”
Despite the small scale, the coffee was a big hit, and within a year Anderson was able to open up his first brick-and-mortar location in northwest Portland. The story behind how Anderson got the funds to open up his first location is one that could only happen in a communal city like Portland.
“I was kind of hemming and hawing because I didn’t have a business license and would have to get a loan,” he says. “Luckily it ended up being a customer of mine at the coffee cart, local writer C.W. Metcalf. I had been talking about it and he asked me how much I needed and offered to loan it to me as long he got free coffee for the rest of his life,” he finishes with a laugh.
The name of the place would be based on one of Anderson’s old stomping grounds in Hawaii. “There was a bar in Hawaii named Anna Bannanas that opened in 1969,” he explains. “It was a gathering place where you checked your attitude at the door. It was my favorite place back home; a place I would go to within an hour of my plane hitting the ground. Unfortunately, the bar got bought out and now it’s something else.”
Fortunately the name lives on through Anderson. Having gotten funding and chosen his name, he moved into his new brick-and-mortar location. The first step was making sure his favored product got the spotlight it deserved.
Thus the silky smooth flavors of D’arte coffee became available to the discerning palates of coffee loving Portlanders. “Even my son when he was nine years old could pull really good shots with just a little bit of training because the coffee is just so consistent,” he resolutely states. “It’s one of those things where when you find it, you know you’re going to be happy with it and you won’t have to choke it down.”
After bringing a taste of Seattle’s finest down south, Anderson would end up owning three separate locations: one in northwest, St. Johns, and on bustling Alberta. Though the rigors of running three businesses would lead to Anderson selling two of the locations, he truly feels they were kept in the family. His first sale would afford him the opportunity of paying forward the graciousness given to him so long ago by C.W. Metcalf.
“I sold my northwest location to a guy that worked for me for twenty years,” he says proudly. “He’s one of my best friends. We watch football every Sunday and talk business and sports. I sold it to him on a no interest payment plan, so there’s no stress.”
The second location to go would be the one on Alberta, which at the time was run by Anderson’s wife, Sarah. “It was a ton of work for her,” he begins, “and I think it was more than she really wanted to deal with. So we sold it to some folks that had been customers over there. They were good friends of some friends of ours that used to live in this neighborhood, so we’ve also known them for a long time.”
Now with more time to focus on the single location in St. John’s, Anderson wants to make sure he’s offering up only the best. Beyond coffee expect beer, wine and delicious food. “Our most popular food item is the one my son invented,” he says, brandishing a smile. “It’s called L.D.’s Mac ‘n Cheese and it comes with pulled pork and barbeque. I like to put kim chi in it as well.”
Like any respectable Portland businessman, the needs of the environment are factored into every decision he makes. “I’m trying to wean people off of almond milk a little bit because it’s not good for the environment,” he says. “So, I’m suggesting hemp milk, which is a really sustainable product.”
Another offering designed for the typical Portland eater is the Niman Ranch Organic Lamb Burger. The meat is native to the Pacific Northwest, coming from a fourth-generation cattle ranch in Idaho. Expect it to be free of antibiotics and hormones and raised on a vegetarian diet of seasonal grasses.
In a nod to the community he lives in, Anderson makes sure his establishment is stocked up with plenty of vegan and gluten free options. “We have gluten-free bread, buns, waffles, and bagels. We can do most of the stuff here gluten-free,” he proudly states.
Having left one paradise for another, Anderson has no plans to leave Portland. Now that he is down to one manageable location, while still feeling his other two are in capable hands, he’s ready to sit back, relax and make sure his customers receive the best products at a reasonable price.
Anna Bannanas in St. John’s is located at 8716 North Lombard Street in Portland. For menu information visit their website or call them at (503)286-2030.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is a published author, journalist, and copywriter who has been writing professionally for over nine years. He currently works from his home in Vancouver, Washington and is excited to bring you the best that the Portland restaurant scene has to offer.