On October 15, 1996, the Lord visited Nashville, Tennessee. But He did not appear in the form of an archangel or a smoldering bush. That day, He made His presence known in the form of a sugar-glazed cinnamon bun.
And the Bongo Java Coffee Company was never the same.
The story goes like this: Bongo manager Ryan Finney had just made cinnamon rolls for the day. He sat down to try his work, but before he could take a bite, he noticed a face staring at him from the pastry. It was unmistakably the glassy face of Mother Teresa, the vaunted Catholic missionary and ambassador of Christ who was made flesh in ready-made flesh.
“I was horrified because I almost ate that religious piece of dough,” Finney said then.
The pastry would be known as that NunBun, and after its promising discovery, Bongo Java has become an immortal piece of Internet lore. People still stop by the original location in Belmont / Hillsboro Village to see them. So famous was the NunBun that Trivial Pursuit anchored it in a trivia question, and the Holy Mother herself laughed at her likeness in the dough – after all.
Now, on the 25th anniversary of NunBun, Bongo Java owner Bob Bernstein looks back on the strange, almost unnoticed miracle that occurred in his café a quarter of a century ago.
At the time of the NunBun’s discovery, Bernstein was not so convinced that he had a miracle in his hand. He was busy opening Bongo’s second location and didn’t have the bandwidth to keep his staff entertained. religious pareidolia.
“To be honest, I didn’t care,” he recalls. “It took me a few days to really go and see. When I saw it, I started laughing. “
This has been the standard reaction for anyone who has seen the NunBun, a really bizarre looking breakfast item that looks just as much like a scaly Mr. Magoo. Finney and his staff soon fell in love with the delicious artifact and originally called it the Immaculate Confection.
A trained journalist, Bernstein tried to get some industry friends to cover the story, but to no avail. Then his staff created a 15-minute mockumentary that quickly spread the word. They showed the video on a loop in the store. Bongo workers shellaced the bun and built a shrine to hold it in and decorated the shrine with Christmas lights. It was under the cash register, so customers had to kneel down to take a look.
Now a real spectacle The Tennessee sent a reporter to cover the NunBun for the Christmas Eve edition, but they got caught by them The national researcher. Soon the coffee shop was in Nashville the talk of the nation. In the days of the proto-internet, the story spread at an unprecedented rate. A bongo regular that is offered Create a website to display a picture of the NunBun. to host. It quickly topped 1 million hits.
“It’s a story of the internet because we went viral in January 1997,” says Bernstein. “We were the most famous coffee house in the world for 15 minutes. People mostly came to see the bun and to laugh or cry or think and we had every kind of reaction you can think of. “
Bongo began selling coffee mugs, t-shirts (Bernstein estimates they sold “a few hundred”) and prayer cards. It wasn’t long before Mother Teresa noticed herself. In March 1997, she wrote Bernstein a letter asking him to stop merchandising the sacred baked goods.
“My lawyer… wrote to ask you to stop, and now I personally ask you to stop,” the Holy Mother wrote: corresponding The Seattle Times. The letter spurred another round of headlines and another fit of primal masculinity. Just a few weeks before Mother Teresa’s death in September 1997, the two sides reached a compromise.
“That was one of the last things Mother Teresa had to decide before she died,” says Bernstein. “Her lawyer tells the story that the week before she died, she accepted our compromise on how much goods we could sell, blah, blah, blah. And she laughed about it. “
All in all, the hustle and bustle lasted only six months. Bernstein calls it “a blip,” an early indicator of the superficial return of viral fame. Bongo has to. developed a million dollar coffee empire, but Bernstein claims that the whirlwind between the discovery of the NunBun and the settlement of Mother Teresa is actually just minor details. It never made the store a tourist destination. But the coffee is and has remained excellent.
“Back then we always did stupid things in the store, and that was just part of it,” says Bernstein. “It didn’t affect me financially.”
The NunBun had one last breath of fame in 2005 when it was on Christmas Day stolen from the store. Nothing else in the store was targeted. Not the cash register or the tip glass. The perpetrator smashed the display, stole the consecrated dough and disappeared into the night. The cops came looking for fingerprints, and Bernstein paid a $ 5,000 reward. He says they got a few pictures of the thief – one of a roaming gnome-style bun on the beach and another in the mountains – but the NunBun is gone forever at that point.
Most of the reporting about the almost decades-long existence of the bun has also disappeared forever. What were once thousands of stories from the Nashville scene to the BBC is now relegated to a few web archives and stray blogs. The reporter who wrote it Tennessee Story moved away and changed its name. One of the co-workers who helped create it has died, and the film he made with his colleagues is nowhere archived online. With the actual bun itself destroyed, there isn’t much left to carry on the legend except for amber itself.
After 15 years of internet curn, the NunBun continues, but in a small, more personal way. The loud traffic numbers have fallen. The pilgrims have stopped filtering. Perhaps the saga of flour, sugar, and an Albanian-Indian nun will find a new audience on its 25th anniversary, but nonetheless, it is destined to return to a murmur. If anything, the NunBun will revert to what it was in 1996: a good story shared by some confused initiates.
Amber is still here, a true Nashville institution and now the keeper of a divine story. If he sees you looking at the newspaper clippings and the Trivial Pursuit card on the wall, he’ll show you the replica they keep in the place of the NunBun. And it will delight you with a story that is now a quarter of a century old and too strange to be embellished.
“The world needs stories like that every now and then,” says Bernstein. “It’s a good mood, it’s funny. But some people saw it as a miracle. Maybe therefore [Mother Teresa] became a saint because this was one of her miracles. “