Bongo Productions is a quintessential part of the Nashville scene. Did you ever wonder how it got started? I was fortunate enough to sit down with founder and owner Bob Bernstein to get an inside look at the creation of Bongo Productions. Read below to hear the story, gain some insight on the Nashville food scene and even get some business tips!

Q: How did the Bongo brand begin?

A: It started as one cafe; it wasn’t really a brand at the time. I was a reporter and moved out here thinking I would never stay in Nashville for more than a year or two. That was 27 years ago and there was not much going on in this town. After about a year, it felt like there was opportunity in this town and journalism didn’t seem to be the thing for me, and so I decided to start a cafe. There was no place like it in town and I used to hang out in places like that in other cities.

Q: Why did you choose to stay in Nashville?

A: I felt like there was opportunity. I didn’t know it was going to explode like it has in the last five years but its been slowly growing in the last thirty. It felt like a comfortable, easy place. It was easy to do it here, anywhere else would have been a much larger risk.

Q: Why did you decide to open Grins on Vanderbilt’s campus?

A: We were selling coffee to the University at the time and so I knew the food service people. They were building the building at the time and wanted to put a small cafe in it and they came to me and asked if I wanted to run a Kosher cafe. I said, “not really”. They kept making the deal better and I said I would try it for a year and now its been a long time.

Sweetie #fatpplproblems A photo posted by @fatpplproblems on Nov 10, 2015 at 3:20pm PST

Q: Given the success of Grins, have you considered opening another vegan/vegetarian location in Nashville?

A: We have, because i tend to eat that way anyway. It just hasn’t seem to be right. We keep toying with the idea. It’s kind of cool that we were the first one, but we’re probably the least known one.

Q: Do you have any plans to expand Bongo Productions in the near future?

A: We’re opening two places next year, one on tenth avenue and one on Jefferson Street. Both of those should open in 2016 and we’re looking at others. I keep saying we’re not going to grow and we keep doing it. I’m a boy who can’t say no.

Q: Whats your favorite Bongo location?

A: Today it’s Grins because I’m here. I mean, it’s like which of your children do you like the best? You can’t say that. Each one of them was created because of a different part of my personality of a different stage I was at in my life so I can’t not like them all.

Happy Friday, indeed?? #bongojava

A photo posted by Bongo Java Roasting Co. (@bongojava) on Nov 13, 2015 at 10:29am PST

Q: How has the Nashville food scene changed since you began? A: It’s completely different. We’re the oldest coffee house. There was no coffee in town. I remember cheering when the first Indian restaurant opened, there were very few hips restaurants. It has come a long way since them. The city is on fire; it’s crazy.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give to a young entrepreneur?

A: One is: don’t start a business unless you really can’t do anything else. And that’s because it is hard. The odds are stacked against you and the cost of running a business is high. But I’m a guy who just couldn’t work for people and I’m glad. And the other thing I’d say is: it’s okay to spend money. I was really cheap when I opened my first place. We opened our first place for under $80,000.00 and to do that today-there’s no way. It worked, but we no doubt spent money years later. When I opened Fido, we ran out of money. I was afraid to go back to my investors and banks and tell them I needed more money so I was kind of afraid of money. So my advice would be to have the confidence that it will work out.

Q: Did you have any formal business school training?

A: Not at all, my dad was a CPA and my mom was more into creative things so I kind of got a little bit of both of them. I’m a jack of all trades. I can’t make espresso drinks anymore, I can’t cook, but I can put the pieces together and figure it out.

Q: What’s your ideal meal?

A: My last meal, I’d eat something totally unhealthy and something I really want. Deep dish Chicago pizza that I gave up and if it was my last meal I’d probably even put sausage on it. But my ideal meal, I’d want something spicy, ethic, like Thai or Mexican, something that has a lot of flavor and something Ive never had before. I like trying things. My wife and I don’t spend money on clothes but we spend money on food and travel so we like to eat out and see the world. My ideal meal would be somewhere I’ve never been in a restaurant I’ve never been and flavors I’ve never had before.

  My superfood wrap gives me wings ??#spoonfeed #spoonfeedvandy #nashville PC: @vegan_healthspiration   A photo posted by Nashville Food Porn????? (@spoon_vandy) on Oct 28, 2015 at 3:49pm PDT