Ohio isn’t exactly known for its palm trees and tropical weather.
But in the Cleveland Historic District, amid bright decorations, cheerful ambience, and a whimsical gecko mascot, Johnny Mango’s World Café & Bar has been pulling in customers like the tropics in the dead of winter.
For 21 years, and going strong, Shelley Underwood’s pioneering hotspot has been serving up such delectable and healthy “world fare,” as Bangkok BBQ chicken (a longtime specialty), Jamaican Jerk chicken, Japanese ‘surf and turfo’ and many others; all well ahead of the food-trend curve.
“Johnny Mango’s was ahead of its time,” says Gary Underwood, proud father-in-law of the restaurant’s creator, Shelly Underwood. “Shelley started in the advertising business after she graduated college, but discovered her real dream after she started working part-time in a restaurant to make ends meet.”
Growing up in Lakewood, a western suburb of Cleveland, Shelley Underwood was well acquainted with the hip Historic District when she conceived the idea to bring a unique menu and extensive juice and margarita bar to the area.
In this week’s Q&A with Recipe for Success @ Boxerbrand, Gary Underwood, the marketing liaison for the restaurant, discusses ways the restaurant remains competitive and fresh while keeping competition at bay.
Q: How does Johnny Mango’s Passport Club draw customers?
We started the Passport Club as a way to stay connected with our customers. Customers who join receive email and news from the restaurant, which could encompass anything from information about a new menu item or a promotion.
Our Passport Club members earn what we call Mango Points to earn coupons and discounts off future meals.
The idea springs from our world café and bar attitude, which seeks to give patrons a chance to travel to different parts of the world with their taste buds. It’s a way to expand horizons outside the Cleveland Historic District in terms of food choice.
Q: What’s the restaurant’s claim to fame?
Johnny Mango has been focused on world-food long before the trends. In October, we celebrated our 21st birthday. The concept was to provide healthy and tasty food options from different places around the world.
Our longtime specialty Bangkok chicken has been on the menu from the beginning. We also feature a tuna Cancuna, which is a Miso-marinated tuna steak, which is served with a Yucatan Slaw. We think of it like a marriage of sunshine to the glimmering sea.
We also offer Pad Thai, Burritos, quesadillas, and a number of gluten-free dishes.
Johnny Mango’s, in a lot of ways, was ahead of its time and pioneered the health-conscious and international foods in our area.
Besides the food, we have an extensive juice bar, where everything is made fresh, and to order. And we have amazing Sangria and Mojitos. It’s a hip, casual eatery inspired by Mexico, Thailand, and other faraway (and warm) locales.
Q: Who is Johnny Mango?
Johnny Mango is a fictitious character Shelley made up to portray an island atmosphere.
It’s a fun place, the type of restaurant where you can relax and … almost feel the sand under your feet when you walk into this cantina-hideaway. The colorful artwork and a maze of greenery adorn the walls and shelves of this hip, casual eatery.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring restauranteurs?
Shelley and I believe anyone can be successful in the restaurant business if they’re willing to work very hard, engage people, and treat employees fairly. You have to love what you do. The restaurant business isn’t easy. It’s time-consuming, but if you love people, and you express that to them, you will be successful. — Johnny Mango’s uses Boxerbrand Menu Covers in its table presentation. Thank you!