By Angela Blue
What can you make with a mango?
The possibilities are endless, if you ask Lakesha Brown-Renfro, Nzinga Teule-Hekima and Tenecia Willis, three best friends and event planners who moved from Houston to Hampton about 15 years ago. They’re the creators of Mango Mango preserves, made with just four simple ingredients: mangos, pure cane sugar, vanilla extract and fresh lime juice.
As part of their event planning business, Simply Panache, the ladies began creating various dishes (salad vinaigrette, fruit dip, punch) using mango preserves, and they quickly discovered that they were onto something. “The mango preserve business was an accidental business,” Brown-Renfro explains.
From there, they began selling the preserves at local farmers’ markets, then worked with the Virginia Department of Agriculture, which led their preserves to be labeled a Virginia’s Finest product. Then Whole Foods started selling the product. “We couldn’t meet the demands of the customers because our customers started following us from farmers’ market to farmers’ market,” Brown-Renfro says. “It got so big that we couldn’t maintain it.”
So they tried for a spot on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and appeared on the show in September 2013. “When we went onto the show, we said, ‘We’re just going to have a good time with it,’” Brown-Renfro recalls. “If we get a deal, OK. If we don’t get a deal, then we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”
Viewers watched the four sharks try samples of dishes created with the preserves, followed by the sharks’ overwhelmingly positive comments: “Fantastic,” “wow” and “really, really, really good.” Ultimately, the sharks didn’t end up making a deal with the entrepreneurs, but their reactions to the mango preserve dishes were enough to boost the business. The ladies received 15,000 orders within 48 hours of when the show aired, equating to nearly 100,000 jars. They also promoted the preserves on QVC and sold out—five times.
Brown-Renfro, Teule-Hekima and Willis were then able to achieve the goal they’d set for themselves all along—to open a restaurant. They took some of their earnings and invested it into a new venture, Mango Mangeaux, A Simply Panache Bistro, located on Mellen Street in Hampton’s Phoebus community. The restaurant serves as a business for dining, event planning and manufacturing of the mango preserves.
So why the unique spelling of mangeaux (which is pronounced mango)? “Our cuisine is French creole and neo-soul,” Brown-Renfro explains. “The creole is the E-A-U-X and it makes the ‘O’ sound. We wanted to be able to differentiate the mango preserves from the bistro.”
Mango Mangeaux opened in January 2016, and already they have hosted close to 10,000 patrons. “We’ve had people come from all around the nation because they saw us on ‘Shark Tank,’” Brown-Renfro notes.
Make Mine A Mango
Their “Shark Tank” popularity explains why people initially visit Mango Mangeaux, but they return for the mango preserves that are spread, mixed, shaken and stirred into a variety of menu items, denoted with a small mango icon.
We started with the Avery Panache—think Arnold Palmer, plus mango. It’s a blend of half mango lemonade and half mango tea. It leans on the sweet side, so sip slowly, and let the mango sink in.
It’s typically uncommon to get too excited over a vinaigrette on a salad, but that’s not the case here. Their vinaigrette is sweet and tangy with a subtle fruity punch, leaving us wanting to dip literally everything in it.
Wanting to know more about what they could make with their mangos, we ordered the ‘Mango Mango’ Cheesecake, described as a “mangolicious melt-in-your-mouth cheesecake” on their menu. The treat came in a martini glass, with a strawberry perched atop and graham cracker crumbs sprinkled on the surface and buried in the bottom of the glass as well. The dish’s consistency seemed more like a pudding than a cheesecake—but regardless, we’ve been craving it since.
In addition to a crave-worthy menu, we love the atmosphere here—clean, fresh and energizing. Posh, grey walls and a white padded nook are invigorated with pops of orange—excuse us—mango colors found on their chairs and cloth napkins that stand out in a simply panache kind of way. A main bar serves an assortment of cocktails, and a breakfast-type bar is wired with power underneath, should your phone need a quick juice. A framed flat-screen TV perches on a main wall, and guests can watch the now-famous “Shark Tank” and QVC episodes, a constant remembrance of how three Hampton entrepreneurs turned an event planning business into a million-dollar operation—with the help of a mango, of course.
That doesn’t mean they’re anywhere close to slowing down. The ladies have opened Simply Panache Nail Bar & Pedi Spa, and in October, they’re launching a boutique hotel, Simply Panache Place—all in the city they adore. “We love Hampton—period,” Brown-Renfro says. “When we came to Phoebus it was a sense of home for us. It has so much good already going on with the restaurants that are on Mellen Street that we’re just excited about the possibilities.”
Mango Mangeaux is open Sunday 9 a.m.–3 p.m. and Tuesday–Saturday 9 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5:30–9 p.m. Their rooftop space is used for hosting events, like their Dinner and a Movie nights, or their Take it to the Top business networking events. The rooftop space, as well as an upstairs room, can be rented for business and lunch meetings or other events.