April 7, 2022
(EL PASO, Texas)–Before the restaurant door could even close behind him, a young man began taking bites out of his oversized crepe while walking to the parking garage. The man became smaller in distance while two more customers headed for the same restaurant and its lime green and golden yellow signage covering its walls of windows.
For nearly eight years, these oversized crepes have been a signature dish for the El Paso restaurant, Hana Banana.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were forced to close with as many as 27% of El Paso businesses closing, according to Cindy Ramos-Davidson, the chief executive officer of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Abigail Vega, the store manager for the Fountains location, described the company’s origins and perseverance through the pandemic.
“Young Choi named Hana Banana after her oldest daughter,” said Vega, detailing how the owner, who was not available at the time of the interview, thought of the company’s name. “It’s really special to her because she came from South Korea. Over in South Korea, they make a lot of crepes, and she did notice that here in El Paso there’s nothing like that. She wanted to take that opportunity and bring what they had in South Korea here.”
Thus, Hana Banana was born.
Vega said that the company’s mission is to, “Serve all of our customers [and] make sure they [receive] customer satisfaction to come back to enjoy something different that you don’t really get anywhere else in El Paso. We like seeing how shocked our customers are when they see how big our crepes are.”
Vega joined the company after completing high school during the height of the pandemic in 2020. She has now supervised the location for over two years and enjoys ordering a crepe and boba tea herself.
“We serve them with ice cream, cheesecake, [and] fruit,” said Vega, describing the crepes. “We also have dry toppings with [regular] M&Ms, peanut M&Ms, sprinkles, Oreos, vanilla granola, and just about everything. We do also have our breakfast [crepes], which [are] ham and bacon.”
The company’s menu also includes ice cream waffles, frozen yogurt, smoothies, shakes, coffee, and an assortment of boba teas.
Asked to name the most popular item on the menu, Vega said, “It would be the number 10, which is a [crepe with] four toppings with whip cream, Nutella, strawberries, and bananas.”
Initially, like with most companies, Hana Banana’s business slowed during the height of the pandemic.
“That’s basically when I started working here,” said Vega. “It really affected the company a lot because we weren’t really getting that much service because people were afraid to go out. We really had to change the way that we worked.”
Changes for Hana Banana included mask and social distancing mandates along with employees washing their hands and surface areas every five to 10 minutes and placing sanitizing stations next to the registers.
Changes also included discontinuing certain specials such as offering free birthday two-topping ice cream crepes and buy 10 get one free crepe, according to Vega.
“We used to do boba [tea] Monday; if you buy one boba, you get one boba free,” said Vega. “Because we’ve been experiencing so many shortages due to the pandemic, we can’t [continue the specials] anymore.”
While the company did stay open, all three locations began closing at 9:30 p.m. instead of the usual 11 p.m., according to Vega. It also closed its dine-in service offering delivery, drive-thru, and to-go service. The company currently continues this protocol.
The company also experienced staff shortages with positions still open at all three of its locations according to the owner’s recent Facebook post.
“We did lose a lot of employees,” said Vega. “When we did get the government [stimulus] checks, everyone wanted to stay home and be safe because they had families who were at high risk. [Other employees] were just more concerned that if we did not get enough business, we would close down.”
Over time, Hana Banana’s customers would come pouring back into the company.
“I think as more people got used to the pandemic and as they saw how we were trying our best to go with the protocols, everyone just felt more comfortable,” said Vega. “More and more people came in and just saw that we were welcoming.”
Sarah Aguirre, a Hana Banana regular, appreciated how the restaurant handled the pandemic.
“I enjoyed ordering my yogurt with fresh fruit. [I’m] glad they are practicing social distancing and allowing only three customers [in] at a time to pick up their orders,” said Aguirre.
Hana Banana’s willingness to adapt and create a safe environment for customers like Aguirre allowed for the company and its signature colossal crepes to persevere through the pandemic.