With the New Orleans Jazz Fest coming up soon at the end of this month (Got a ticket from my buddy Scott Vincent for the Tom Petty gig!!!), I can’t help but reminisce about “Dr. Banana” — the original and true smoothie king!
I was privileged to go to the very first Jazz Fest at the Fair Grounds, and this is where I subsequently helped Dr. Banana sell his famous smoothies and other health food items way back in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
I first met Dr. Banana at his Uptown Smoothie Shop in New Orleans right behind the Mushroom Record Shop on Broadway. This was before anyone was using a blender to make health-food type mixes. He was basically using some type of fruit, ice, honey and other ingredients and toppings in his product. The sign to his business bore his name with a banana symbol as well.
I frankly don’t recall his real name, but he had that Hawaiian surfer tan look and was very charismatic. He certainly knew how to get youngsters, adults and older folks to buy his products and made you really feel like what you were getting was not only good for you but tasted great too — certainly, much better than a soda pop or a sugary snowball.
Since I would frequent the Mushroom Record Shop for Beatles, Monkeys, Doors and other groups’ LPs back then, it was only natural to drop into the adjacent Dr. Banana’s to get a healthy alternative to the snowballs which ’Yats like me had grown up with. We loved snowballs — especially some of the fabulous ones found at the Uptown Plum St. (Williams) location or the Tchoupitoulas St. Hanson’s Sno-Bliz Snowballs.
So when Dr. Banana opened up a shop on the Loyola University campus, where I was going to college to study Social Work, I decided to check into a job opening. In between classes, I would work at his shop in the Dana Center and catch up with all of my like-minded friends, who were coming for a mid-day health snack. The simple Banana Smoothie with just ice and honey was a favorite.
In 1980, when Dr. Banana heard about the upcoming Jazz Fest, he booked a spot where he could bring his mobile smoothie van to sell his wares. So I decided to make a little extra money and agreed to join him at the fest to help him sell his goodies on both weekends. It was great to be able to see firsthand his goodies being enjoyed by groups like the Neville Brothers.
It is amazing how much money he cleared even back then. Dr. Banana charged about $2 each for these smoothies, which cost less than a fourth of that to produce. It was really in vogue and thought to be cool to be seen with a healthy type of cold drink in your hand as you were perusing the bands at the fest.
But where he really made a profit was with “Fruit Freezies.” He had us cut a refrigerated pineapple into four long pieces, which we had trimmed to just the fruit; these we connected to a wooden stick and sold them for $2 apiece and included a marketing “Dr. Banana” sticker! A whole pineapple probably cost less than a buck back then.
So this year as you’re strolling from one gig to another at the fest, be sure to look for some remnants of Dr. Banana — his legacy goes on just like the fest. And may the Peace of the Lord be with you and yours always — spread some good will as you jazz it up. As my Spiritual Leader has well noted, “By their fruits you will know them!” Matthew 7:16.