When craving dessert or a sweet treat, most people go for ice cream, cake, or cookies. But sometimes, you want something a little different — and we have just the spot for a more unique treat. For Jersey City residents, chances are that a vision of Baonanas comes to mind: light and fluffy banana mousse with alternating layers of softened wafers and fresh fruits. Located at 181 Monticello Avenue (as well as a Harborside location), Baonanas is a local Jersey City dessert company that brings its unique and delicious banana pudding for all to enjoy — including Bella Hadid who reportedly loves the spot. The spot has also since expanded to the East Village in NYC, bringing its banana pudding to the other side of the Hudson. Keep reading to find out more about this popular local spot.
How Baonanas Came to Be
Owners Trisha Villanueva and Lloyd Ortuoste were born and raised in the Greenville and West Side neighborhoods of Jersey City, and currently still reside in Jersey City with their Shiba Inu named Iroh. These Jersey City natives truly know what cultivating, creating, and supporting local is all about.
Trisha and Lloyd met in 2010 and quickly discovered passions they had in common including hiking, traveling, dancing, and especially, eating (dessert). In March of 2014, Trisha and Lloyd found out their yellow car fell victim to a fender bender while parked in front of Lloyd’s house. About a month later, the couple decided to invite friends over and make their “signature” banana pudding for them.
This innovative dessert was always a hit at any gathering, and they used Leche flan instead of boxed Jello to achieve a fluffy mousse. During this gathering, a close friend insisted on paying for his share to start a “Repair Fund” for their car in exchange for the dessert. From this came the hashtag #Baonanas. Lloyd told Hoboken Girl, “Bao (宝) is a Chinese character that comes from baobao (宝宝), which means baby. The character itself means precious treasure and has become our preferred term of endearment.”
“Naturally, when we needed to come up with a hashtag for our fundraiser, #Baonanas Banana Pudding was what we gravitated to. So if ever you catch us calling each other Bao, it’s not because we coincidentally have the same name,” he continued.
From here, the idea, the hashtag, and #BaonanaNation came to life to help spread the word about their fundraising on social media.
In two months, they got so many orders from friends, family, and strangers that they raised enough money to repair the car and keep the momentum of Baonanas alive.
Trish and Lloyd wanted to continue to grow their innovative dessert idea but also wanted to finish school, so for the first three years of their business, they worked on building their brand and sales through mobile events, catering, wholesale, and weekend pop-ups at the Smorgashburg in Brooklyn.
What’s on the Menu
Those who have tried Baonanas know how this delicious dessert is so much more than a typical banana pudding.
“Just like how the Cronut was created in NYC or Bubble Tea in Taiwan, this innovative new way to make dessert was created right here in Jersey City,” Lloyd shared. “Although inspired by a southern classic banana pudding, which consists of vanilla pudding with layers of vanilla wafers and sliced bananas layered inside, Baonanas is constantly innovating by going beyond banana pudding. Our mousses are infused with wholesome ingredients.”.
Baonanas infuses its light and fluffy banana mousse with wholesome ingredients like the homemade Ube (purple yam) Jam, real lychees, or peachy-mango chutney made from scratch. It has a texture similar to tiramisu and is scooped like ice cream, but it’s a one-of-a-kind treat.
The shop boasts more than 63+ flavors, which change weekly and also can vary by location. The classic flavors (which are all layered with sliced bananas) include s’ mores, matcha, and cream + cookies. The shop also carries non-banana flavors such as its ube and lychee-rose (think a lychee-rose flavored mousse with layers of softened Nilla wafers and fresh lychees and strawberries).
Baonanas also offers innovative flavors that connect the owners with their Filipino roots, such as Buko Pandan. The Buko Pandan is made with buko (coconut) and pandan (a fragrant and aromatic tropical plant) infused with mousses and layers of softened wafers and sliced bananas. Baonanas also carries vegan options such as the pina colado.
What’s more, the spot even gained recognition from none other than Bella Hadid, who shared her positive review on social last year.
Locations Around Town
After Trisha and Lloyd finished school, they were ready to take their Baoanas operation to the next level and opened a pop-up location in Harborside’s District Kitchen, located at 210 Hudson Street, July 4th weekend in 2019. (This Harborside location is now closed through the end of 2022 except for Thanksgiving week.)
The headquarters, located at 181 Monticello Avenue, is the flagship store and opened in June 2020 during the pandemic. There were many reasons why the local couple picked Monticello Avenue for the headquarters. Lloyd and Trisha were raised in the Greenville and West Side areas of Jersey City and wanted to bring their special desserts near the place where they call home and wanted to be close to Bergen-Lafayette, West Side, and McGinley Square where Monticello Avenue is currently being revitalized.
At the beginning of 2022, the team decided to expand to NYC and officially opened up in the East Village at 93 E 7th Street.
Adjusting to COVID
The process to get this location up and running was very challenging, as the couple faced being scammed by a general contractor while working on construction on the headquarters. A few months later, the pandemic hit, and the owners say it has been very challenging. They lost business across the board, including the cancellation of catered events such as weddings, pop-ups such as Smorgasburg, wholesale, and markets to name a few. The number of employees went from 12 to three throughout the pandemic, but thanks to things picking up again, the team has been able to rehire most of their staff back.
Trish and Lloyd have found innovative ways to continue to serve the community by doing local pop-ups alongside food trucks around Jersey City. They have also picked up some catering along the way for events like weddings and bridal showers, to name a few.
Lloyd told Hoboken Girl, “Even with challenges, our goal is to be a positive contribution to this community, the people that have lived here for decades, and the people that are calling this home for the first time. We aspire to be like our neighbor’s Moore’s Lounge, which has been hosting some of the country’s best Jazz musicians since 1969, and how they’ve been a Monticello staple for over 50 years. We are committed to this neighborhood, this city, and serving up happiness!”
Make sure to check out this local family-owned business. Baonanas HQ on Monticello Avenue is open Tuesday – Sunday from 11AM to 9PM. The NYC location is open Thursday – Friday 4PM to 12AM, Saturday 12PM to 12AM, and Sunday 12PM to 10PM. The Harborside location is temporarily closed, but it will reopen on Thanksgiving week Monday 11/21 – Friday 11/25 from 11AM-9PM (but closed Thursday 11/24 for Thanksgiving). Keep up with Trish and Lloyd on the Baonanas Instagram.