28 Mar A Main Street Mainstay Gives Back
When Jung Hong opened Manna Café on Belair Road in 2008, it didn’t take long for it to become one of Belair-Edison’s most popular eateries. Mr. Hong tracks his customer traffic carefully and says that over the years, an average of 200 customers a day will come to the café between Wednesday and Saturday.
He thinks it helps that the Dollar Tree is right next door, but once people try his food, they keep coming back. He’s always happy when new customers come in because they were referred by other customers, and he takes pride in his store being clean, providing good service and serving good food, like his popular fried chicken, lake trout, and western fries. He also has the same employees year after year.
Manna Café is named after the Christian biblical meaning for manna, “the bread of heaven.” Lunch and dinner are the most popular times of day for Mr. Hong, but he decided to open for breakfast at 8 a.m. because that’s when the other retail shops and businesses in the area open.
Before he came to Belair-Edison, Mr. Hong owned a carryout on Church Square near Johns Hopkins Hospital but thought the area had too much competition. He was familiar with Belair-Edison because he knew the building’s owner and he would drive through when visiting his sister. He likes that it’s a “homeowner neighborhood.”
There are other aspects of Belair-Edison that Mr. Hong also appreciates: The high level of involvement of Belair-Edison Neighborhoods, Inc. (BENI), and what he sees as a continuous effort to revitalize the neighborhood. He has welcomed and supported different community initiatives like Coffee with a Cop, informal gatherings, organized by BENI, that encouraged local police officers and community leaders to build personal relationships within the neighborhood.
BENI has helped Manna Café with two façade improvements, using the NeighborWorks grant to install lights in the window, power-wash the exterior and install a motorized security door outside the business to make it easy for Mr. Hong to open and close.
Says Will Smith, BENI’s small business manager, “At BENI we find that those metal security doors can make the neighborhood look unsafe, but we understand that merchants like them to protect their property, so we used part of the grant to have a local artist paint a mural on it of the inside of his business with customers sitting and eating at the tables. We thought this was a happy medium and added to atmosphere of the main street even when the café is closed.”
Initially, Baltimore City gave Mr. Hong a grant to open his business, providing him with half the money he needed to get up and running. His gratitude for the grant and his success in Belair-Edison led him to approach BENI several years ago with an unusual request.
He wanted to start giving back to the community, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. He knew he wanted to make an impact, give to a cause that can sometimes be overlooked, and help the youth in the community. He’s also a firm believer in the power of education to lead to a better life.
Since then, Mr. Hong has worked with BENI every year to determine how the money will be used. The funds always go to students in the area with the highest GPAs and perfect attendance. In the past, the students have been awarded Verizon gift cards and tablets.
In 2015, Mr. Hong received some appreciation of his own when he won the Mayor’s Business Recognition Award, given to businesses that have demonstrated corporate leadership and service in improving the quality of life in Baltimore.
3417 Belair Rd.
Baltimore, MD 21213
Open Monday-Saturday, 8AM – 8PM