Manuel reflects on our work with Bonjo Java over the years as part of our 40th anniversary:

Janice was a social worker specializing in adoptions for 20 years, and after Anna and Nate were born, she wanted to put her focus on them. But given her creative energy, she started a small business baking desserts out of our home. After doing this for a couple of years, Bob Bernstein reached out to her to discuss the possibility of her helping him with desserts for his new, yet to be named, coffee shop. Bob had been a journalist and was interested in creating a place that people could gather for conversation and great coffee, a place that didn’t seem to exist in Nashville at that point.

He was also looking for a location, and Janice suggested he speak with me about the downstairs of my office on Belmont Boulevard. We had renovated a 4 unit apartment house for our offices. After going through the recession of ’88, we went from a staff of 7 to just me. A friend, and one of my first employees, Bill Johnson, joined me upstairs after the building he worked in had a fire.

Bob agreed it was a great space. Initially there was an opening in the foyer between the two levels and the smell of coffee wafting up into our office finally turned me into a coffee drinker.

A group of investors gathered there one evening before it opened to come up with a name.  Janice and I liked Siza, which was named after Bob’s mother’s Chicago art gallery that supported indigenous African crafts.Bruce Gold, suggested Bongo Java, and the rest is history.

As work picked up, we quickly outgrew the attic, and Bongo took over that space as well. About the same time, the developers of Cummins Station reached out to me about designing the renovation of their 400,000 square foot building. They also requested that we move into the building as a tenant. I asked Janice what she thought about the idea of opening an art gallery that combined art with modern lighting and furniture, since there were no offerings in Nashville at that time. Having now been a social worker and a pastry chef, she whole heartedly embraced this new idea.

Patrick Avice du Buisson, a friend and architect, who worked for MZA at the time, joined us as a partner in Zeitgeist. We thought it would be great if we could offer coffee and pastries in the morning to other tenants in the building and designed a coffee cart to reside in the gallery. It was a lot of fun having Nashville Scene staff and others hanging out in the gallery every day. But when baristas didn’t show up, and Patrick or I had to man the cart, we decided to shut that part of the gallery down.

In the years since the original Bongo, we've worked with them on a number of projects, including:

Fido (to help me wrap up the drawings, Bob cut my hedges one afternoon)

Bongo Java East

Bongo Java Roasting Company in the Gulch

Bongo Java Roasting Company at Tech Hill


Fenwick’s 300

Bongo on Jefferson St.

Fetch to Go (next to Fido)