Our first meal in country music mecca was eaten fittingly enough, at the holiest of holy cafes…Bongo Java. Nashville’s oldest and most famous coffeehouse, and it was so good, we ate breakfast there twice. Which is really saying something considering the four vastly different palates involved.
Famous for their award-winning organic coffee, which they roast themselves at sister location Fido in the über-hip Five Points area of East Nashville, Bongo opened for business on Sunday, March 28, 1993 and three years later became world famous when the staff discovered a cinnamon bun that many believe bears an uncanny resemblance to the late Mother Teresa.
I don’t know if you remember when this story was making the internet rounds in 1996, but it was big news at the time, and the talk of the morning and late-night talk shows for months. Eventually, news of the discovery traveled all the way to Calcutta, where Mother Teresa’s “people” politely threatened legal action if Bongo continued selling merchandise with her name on it.
A compromise was reached and the Bongo brass coined (and copyrighted) the term, Nun Bun. A shrine was built into the front counter to house the Nun Bun and the souvenir t-shirts and coffee mugs continued to fly out the door at an astonishing pace. And then, on Christmas day, 2005, someone broke into the shuttered coffee shop and stole the world-famous Nun Bun.
No culprit was ever found and nothing else in the cafe was touched, so whoever broke in knew exactly what they wanted. After searching eBay for months in hopes that the Bun thief would try to sell the pilfered pasty online, the staff of Bongo Java abandoned hope and created a new shrine to house the plaster replica they had fortuitously crafted months before the robbery. Pictured here is the replica plaster Nun Bun in her shrine.
The baristas we talked to — one of whom co-discovered the original Bun — said they sometimes get cryptic photos in the mail of the missing Nun Bun shot in various locations around the world. But since there is never a return address or a ransom note attached, the exact whereabouts of the true Nun Bun remains a total mystery to this day.
But the food, atmosphere and most of all, the coffee here is anything but. Bongo Java has really, truly first rate coffee house fare — the hashbrowns have a spicy, “dirty South” flavor that is out of this world — of the highest caliber.
And if you’re itching to try some of the fresh-roasted coffee beans for yourself (as Mom and I did) the best bets are the pitch-black Charbucks Roast and the sweeter, more mellow, Immaculate Percolation. Trust me, you won’t find better coffee anywhere in the South. This stuff rocks!
Our only complaint was that for some reason, they do not sell cinnamon buns anymore…hmm, I guess one miraculous bun was enough.
5 responses to “Bongo Java & The Nun Bun”
I so remember the Mother Teresa bun story! What a funny reminder of that mid-’90s pop culture icon. Hadn’t thought about that in years.
It was the “Nun Bun” that the Russian spy was searching for when he dropped in at the “Le Bon Ton” asking for directions to Bongo Java.
Ha! That is perfect! He’s probably the one who stole the bun to begin with!
I didn’t realize that a local filmmaker made a short movie on the miniature Mother Teresa likeness. It reportedly sold 100 copies.
I also thought this was a funny quote,
“Loree says the staff thinks they were “chosen” to receive the bun, as a reward for their hard work.” Only Tommy and I know how hard it is to work in a coffee shop! We were never rewarded with a nun bun…
The BBC International actually carried the story of the theft on 12/27/05:
Christmas thief steals ‘Nun Bun’
The famous bun has been preserved with shellac
A cinnamon bun that bears a striking likeness to late Catholic nun Mother Teresa was stolen from a US coffeehouse on Christmas Day.
The owner arrived to find that the famous flaky pastry had vanished from the shop in Nashville, Tennessee.
Bob Bernstein said he thought the culprit was angry over the display.
The “Nun Bun” has drawn tourists since it was preserved and put in a glass case at the shop, where it was discovered by a customer in 1996.
The bun became international news following the find in the folds of its pastry.
The Bongo Java coffee shop sold T-shirts, prayer cards and mugs with the bun’s image until Mother Teresa wrote a letter asking the sales be stopped, before her death in 1997.
Mr Bernstein said the thief “went right for the bun”, ignoring cash lying nearby.
“Unfortunately I think it’s somebody who wanted to take it to destroy it,” he said.
Wow, I hope they didn’t destroy it!! Yikes!