Mario Jimenez and Thanh-Thanh Dang had a coffee shop in Puerto Rico; they traded it for Banana Dang in Oceanside.
Rockers often segue into food and beverage. Moby, Ludacris, and Justin Timberlake have all opened eateries. Ex–San Diegan Mark Trombino, the multiplatinum producer (blink-182, Jimmy Eat World) who will soon play Coachella with his re-animated Drive Like Jehu, launched a second career two years ago when he opened Donut Friend in Highland Park.
Singer Mario Jimenez and publicist Thanh-Thanh (pronounced tahn-tahn) Dang have turned the page with their new coffee-and-smoothie storefront called Banana Dang.
Jimenez fronted the post-hardcore band Stanford Prison Experiment for ten years (1992–2002), releasing three albums. They opened for Rage Against the Machine on a West Coast tour and toured with Faith No More in Europe. Stanford Prison Experiment got signed to Island Records in 1998, just as that label imploded. “Ninety-seven people got laid off,” Jimenez tells the Reader. “By the time our record came out, everyone we knew there was gone. We went out on tour, but no one worked our record.”
Dang’s work as a publicist in L.A. and New York earned her a gold record (Fuel) and a platinum disc (Foo Fighters). She worked for P.R. companies as well as for Geffen Records publicity, working with Beastie Boys, Hole, Bowie, and Guns ’N Roses until she was given her own P.R. department to run at Ultimatum Records (Incredible Moses Leroy), which folded soon after she left. Dang left the record industry just as music was starting to get downloaded.
While the two experienced firsthand the record-industry meltdown, Dang and Jimenez made their own happy ending. They got married and then opened their own coffee house on Puerto Rico’s west coast. After eight years, they’ve opened Banana Dang in downtown Oceanside. Forty years ago, Dang’s family came to nearby Camp Pendleton, arriving with hundreds of other South Vietnamese refugees.
How did you get into publicity?
Thanh-Thanh: I started putting out my own ’zine called The Club [1985–’86]. It was all about Echo and the Bunnymen. I always had Mac [Ian McCulloch] on the cover. And I would cover what other people thought about the band. Then I get a call from the head of publicity for Sire asking me if I would like to actually interview Mac.... Then two USC grads put out a paper called T&B, which stood for The Beat. I got to interview Frampton, Depeche Mode, Dead Milkmen, Jesus and Mary Chain.... Then [in 1992] I was an intern at Echo and the Bunnymen’s independent publicity company.... I became an intern at [now defunct] Hollywood Records. I made copies of magazine articles all day. I became like an encyclopedia on all the bands because I read all the articles.
Your first paying job?
T-T: Geffen Records. I was there for a month when Kurt [Cobain] died. My boss wasn’t in that day. Everyone went to work in shorts and a T-shirt, and when they wanted someone to talk to the TV cameras, no one was dressed for it. We made the director of marketing go out. The phones rang off the hook all day.... I was there when Beck’s first album came out. He would come in and just hang out. He was really shy. When I left, “Loser” was just becoming a hit.
From 1993 until ’97 you were the tour publicist for Bowie, Warped Tour, and Social Distortion. Which was most fun?
T-T: Mike Ness only did interviews with fanzines. He was totally against Rolling Stone, so it was really easy to set up interviews. Everyone wanted to speak with Mike. He was so real.
You experienced the decline of major labels firsthand. Do you miss the big-label era at all?
T-T: Now the power is in the hands of the artists. They have more control of their own music and how it’s communicated. They can go on Twitter and Facebook and write directly to their fans. They don’t have to go through several heads of state. A smaller fish is more powerful than a bigger fish. It can move faster. It has more agility. More places to hide.
Why Puerto Rico?
Mario: We were looking for a place to start a coffeehouse. We found it on our honeymoon. Rincon is on the very western point of Puerto Rico, which is semi-rural. It’s the surfing mecca for the Midwest and the East Coast.... We were able to buy the house. We lived upstairs and had the coffeehouse downstairs. We had banana trees on our property. We used only coffee that was grown on the island.
Too much paradise?
M: We wanted to get back here so our daughter could be with our families. [Puerto Rico] is an island and sometimes the tankers don’t roll in on time. The electricity and water would not always be there. It’s a beautiful place but maybe not the best to run a business. If you’re used to everything running on time, and not running out, you can throw that out the window.