One stop at Banzo and it is clear the food cart is the independent-hipster-hacky-sack side of Madison in a nutshell. The green food cart decorated with painted vines and a garbanzo bean hosting the name is both the food cart the city needed, and the food cart the city deserves.
Stationed at the end of pedestrian mall of State Street, the area gets foot traffic from students, faculty, community members and visitors alike. The area is crawling with food carts, currently hosting 20 on the newly renovated Library Mall.
Banzo entered the food cart scene in 2011 through owners Aaron Collins and Netalee Sheinman. Sheinman and Collins were living in New York studying the food cart scene before deciding to bring mediterranean food to Madison, something they believed was missing from the isthmus. Sheinman is from Israel, and goes there often to visit family and update recipes, keeping the food authentic and unique to Library Mall’s food carts.
Banzo patrons can get their fix of falafel, kebabs, pita, and hummus, which isn’t found anywhere else on the mall. The F-Bomb, as it is so delicately named, is one of their most popular dishes, which includes two falafel balls with a choice of chicken or beef.
The falafel gurus that run the cart are proud ambassadors of the “Banzo lifestyle,” promoting chill vibes and harmony through authentic mediterranean cuisine.
“The Banzo lifestyle is just very chill,” Tanner Westimayer explained, who has worked for Banzo since it opened. Westimayer fits the mood of the cart perfectly, sporting dreadlocks, various face piercings, and a disposition suggesting he partakes in the sacred herb, and not the one found in their falafel. Indeed very, very chill.
Most of the hirees are referred by Banzo employees, keeping the staff pool in the Banzo family.
Now that they’ve been on the scene for four years, they keep it fresh both in and out of the cart.
“As far as the food goes, we grind and make our falafel every morning so it’s always fresh, which is also why it’s the best. As far as us keeping it fresh, we have crazy staff parties,” he said. “We all hang outside of work, it’s a little Banzo family.”
The staff, he explained, are all very creative people with similar interests. Most of the Banzo family are musicians and artists. The positive work environment comes from the job supporting their other interests, rather than it getting in the way.
“We all kind of vibe the same way. Mainly everyone who works there is doing other cool things outside of the food service” he said.
Westimayer works in the music industry as a booking agent. Collins is a drummer, quite a few of the staff are in bands, one is a violinist and drummer for The Handphibians, a drum group here in Madison.
The positive atmosphere shows when you step up to the cart. If I’m going to drop nine bucks on your food, you gotta have the right vibe. Banzo is that vibe. While the food is indeed incredible, they believe their success in the food cart scene comes from that vibe.
“I think we basically are pretty solid with talking to people. We have a lot of regular customers because of that, it’s not just a quick get your food and leave.” No wham bam thank you ma’am here folks. Come for the tasty food, stay for the conversation.
The happy utopia of crispy falafel goodness sits in the crossfire of other two stands who are not exactly up on that positive Banzo life.
“That smoothie girl hates the other smoothie girl, they hate each other. They have a thing,” Westimayer said, pointing to the adjacent carts. “We get along with everyone though.”
It’s not surprising the drama doesn’t affect the Banzo workers. They’re just enjoying life, man.
“We’re just spreading that Banzo life. Make it a hashtag, #BanzoLife,” he said. “We’re all positive people, that’s why they keep coming back.”
The food cart has now expanded to multiple locations and has even established a permanent location on Sherman Ave, with a second location moving in on Willy Street, allowing the team to spread the “chill” all around Madison. Where do they go from here?
“The world,” Westimayer said.
There you have it. Banzo is on its way to change the world, one F-bomb at a time.