Where to Eat Vegan in Central Florida: Tampa Bay CAFE HEY

©: Igot_theshot

Tampa/Tampa Bay is a central Florida metro that sits on the west coast of Florida, along the Gulf Coast. The Gulf Coast of Florida shares its waters with some of: Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico. Tampa Bay metro includes the main cities of: Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater; towns and villages include: Brandon, Largo, and New Port Richey to name a few.

Visitors from all over come to Tampa for many reasons: Busch Gardens theme park, Ybor City, Tampa Riverwalk; however, many will say that the two most majestic things about Tampa Bay are: being surrounded by water and the sunsets. Tampa Bay is a large natural harbor and shallow estuary connected to the Gulf of Mexico on the west-central coast of Florida. Clearwater was named <“Best Beach in the South”> because of  its sugar-white sands, warm Gulf of Mexico waters, and breathtaking sunsets.

©: Cafe Hey

In Tampa Heights sits <Cafe Hey>: a charming cafe offering a varied menu, that includes a nice selection of vegan dishes, and is operated by a team of passionate people. Cafe Hey offers a warm experience, surrounded by art placed on exposed brick walls, in an area just outside of Downtown Tampa.

I had a time feasting on delicious vegan meals, taking in the art, and being infused by such charming energy.

I had:

  • Caribbean Black Bean Soup (rotating vegan soup menu)
  • Chicken Parmesan Sandwich (one of the sandwich specials but may soon have a regular reoccurring guest star role due to popular demand!)
  • Vegan breakfast sandwich (on the regular daily menu)
  • Vegan breakfast burrito (on our regular daily menu)
  • Cowboy Skillet topped with vegan Yo! egg (rotating monthly brunch menu)

©: Igot_theshot

The 14th < Where to Eat Vegan with the Traveling Cannabis Writer>  features <Cafe Hey!> Get to know them through the owner, S. Cheong Choi. 

Q&A with the Founder and Owner of Cafe Hey: S. Cheong Choi 

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Where are you from/raised, where do your roots link back to?

“I was raised in Tampa since the tender age of three but born in Malaysia. We moved to Tampa all at once with extended family in the late 70s.”

What did you do for work or other businesses owned and worked prior to Cafe Hey?

“Besides Cafe Hey, I work figuratively and literally adjacent to the restaurant business selling equipment and smallwares to other restaurants. In completely different lifetimes, I taught overseas and also worked in various publications in China and Europe respectively.”

©: Cafe Hey

A little insight into the 10 year old you; what were your hopes and dreams?

“10 year old Cheong was just a weird kid that was trying to finish his homework while unsuccessfully trying to fit in and figure out how to turn off the neon light above his head that constantly flashed “weirdo”.

When did cooking and meal creation start for you? 

“The love of cooking started slow and simple throughout teenage years and twenties but really didn’t develop fully until learning on the job at Cafe Hey.”

When did you know you wanted to feed others?

“The joy in feeding others was another aspect of on-the-job training at Cafe Hey that I realized. Constantly happy customers with full bellies is one of the biggest perks of the industry. Feeding my kids has now made this exponentially more so.”

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What’s your favorite thing to create and feed others?

“As balance is one of the qualities I try to achieve in cooking through the aspects of various flavors and flavor profiles, fresh and cooked, bright colors, healthy and decadent, soups are one of my favorite palettes. Crowd pleasers like vegan broccoli and cheddar soup and vegan shrimp gumbo are always fun for me and customers.”

When was the concept of Cafe Hey born and what was/were the reason(s)?

“The original business partners and I all agreed there needed to be a place for our friends to congregate that was an extension of ourselves and our personalities. This was after we and a number of our friends moved back to Tampa around 2005.  After seeing what the world had to offer we wanted to create and incorporate it into the fabric of Tampa.”

What was the official birthdate of Cafe Hey?

“We opened our doors and made our first sale on October 20th 2007.”

What is the mission and core values of Cafe Hey?

“Food and drink and company are fuel. We strive to have the best quality at the most democratic prices for this fuel. There is a place at our table for everybody.”

©: Igot_theshot

What inspired the Vegan menu and offerings?

“We are fortunate to have started offering a number of vegan items on our menu when veganism started becoming much more widespread. Our customer base responded early on and we responded by coming up with new ideas like vegan brunches and made from scratch baked goods, soups, and pre-packaged salads that are all strictly vegan. Though we are not a strictly vegan restaurant, we want to make it easy and accessible for vegans and omnivores alike to enjoy vegan foods.” 

What kinds of plant proteins do you all use?

“The plant proteins we use are chiefly the bacon and slices for our sandwiches and crumbles for some of the more involved dishes that we create. Lightlife, though we had been using Sweet Earth, and may shift to another product for the bacon. We use Tofurky slices and Morningstar crumbles, and we have also been known to make our own plant proteins on occasion.”

Are any of your products locally sourced?

“When possible and pragmatic, we will opt for locally sourced products or even produce them on our own. In a state like ours with tremendous amounts of agriculture, bringing in the bulk of a Florida restaurant’s produce from across the country is sometimes absurd. We also enjoy bringing in local products from the Tampa Bay area with its now world-renowned brewing industry.” 

How do you all feel about cannabis for wellness? 

“It has been an extremely underused resource for the wellness industry for entirely too long.”

©: Cafe Hey

Any hemp offerings on your menu/as an ingredient (hemp seeds/milk/protein)? 

“Unfortunately not at this time.”

Have you learned anything about cannabis recently that surprised you? 

“Yes, that other states have not decided to allow it for medicinal uses!”

Final Words

©: Cafe Hey

I asked Cheong to close out the interview with 3 things people should know about Cafe Hey, he responded:

“1. Tasty and healthy food and drink are not things that should be placed out of reach. Cafe Hey provides that to as many as possible. We have been fortunate enough also to be the caretakers of such an establishment.

2. We are chiefly a humble coffee shop and sandwich shop on the outskirts of downtown Tampa. Although we have a penchant to be a player in local art and music, we don’t forget the basics.

3. Beyond the obvious food, drink, art and music that are integral parts of what we do, what we offer as the deep undercurrent is to be part of a community that connects the everyday customers to the food, drink, art and music.”

Make sure ya’ll visit <Cafe Hey> and <follow on IG>!

©: Igot_theshot

Veronica Castillo is a published writer known as the Traveling Cannabis Writer. She was born and raised in Miami, and recently retired from road life after 5 years of traveling the United States and the Caribbean on a mission to learn and educate on all things plant medicine. Though her body of published work is mainly in cannabis, Veronica is passionate about plant based lifestyles. She lost 95 pounds, began her healing journey, and treated her migraines with a plant based lifestyle. 

Her Where to Eat Vegan Series explores vegan menus and plates, helping travelers navigate their plant based lifestyles on the road.  Follow her on IG at @vee_travelingvegcannawriter and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vee-traveling-veg-canna-writer/ 

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