Winter Haven, a refuge from winter, is located in central Florida’s Polk County in between Orlando and Tampa. Winter Haven is known for its: 50 beautiful lakes, world-class collection of vintage aircraft, and for the world’s largest Legoland. Years ago, Winter Havenvwas known for the place that grew the state’s fruits and vegetables with an abundance of wild citrus trees.
Many visit Florida for her glorious beaches and theme parks, others want to come here and feel her warmth. For those that aren’t fond of the beach, and those that want to be away from the theme parks and other hustle and bustle, Winter Haven is a great location for retreat.
As noted above, lakes dominate this Florida region and so those visiting Winter Haven may want to visit: Chain of Lakes Park. Botanical garden lovers can explore: Bok Tower Gardens. Bird lovers and those obsessed with seeing a Florida gator can visit: Panther Point Trail. And while out there exploring, stop in to eat some phenomenal vegan food at a local vegan restaurant, inspired by the beautiful island of Haiti: InnerG Cafe.
A lot of Florida’s magic rests in being able to eat from all of the Caribbean. Most places don’t have a Jamaican, Trinidadian, Haitian, Puerto Rican, or Cuban restaurant within hundreds of miles. Here in Florida, this is generally all around the corner. Winter Haven is home to InnerG Cafe and it is worth a stop and then another one!
I visited this black woman owned vegan restaurant on a partly cloudy Sunday afternoon, and chef Eimi El lit up my world. A school bus turned kitchen with the bus seating recycled and used as dine-in seating, in an area that was outside but covered; with electricity, speakers, and the warmest vibe.
And the menu is DELICIOUS! Vegan dishes inspired by Haiti, free from a bunch of processed ingredients, and made mostly from whole foods. I ate sooooo good and enjoyed EVERY bite of (and I mean I enjoooooyed):
- The Haitian Plate
- Cheezeburger Eggrolls
- Haitian Mac N Cheeze
- Walnut Burger and Thick Cut Fries
- Momma’s Potato Salad
- Collard Greens
- Haitian Cornbread
- Blueberry Lemonade (made with spring water)
In my 9th, Where to Eat Vegan feature, it is my pleasure to introduce you to InnerG Cafe through the owner and executive chef: Eimi El.
Q&A with the Owner and Executive Chef of InnerG Cafe, Eimi El
Credit: InnerG Cafe
Where are you from; where do your roots originate?
“My family is from Pamlico County, North Carolina. It’s a very small county where everyone is related and knows everyone.”
What did you do for work, or other businesses owned and worked prior to InnerG Cafe?
“I am an author both published and self published. My latest cookbook: Food Is a Love Language, is filled with all of the comfort foods we love! In addition to food, fashion is my passion. I owned an online boutique for women and was also a personal stylist. I also owned a Tax Bar (tax preparation services) . Last but but least, I am the Director of Shaping Women Inc. 501 (c ) 3 nonprofit profit organization. As an organization we are dedicated to achieving our mission of empowering women to become entrepreneurs through several ways.”
Give me a little insight into the 10 year old you; what were your hopes and dreams?
“At 10 years old I knew I wanted to be a chef or something with fashion/modeling. I’ve always loved to cook but I dreaded the idea of being in a hot kitchen sweating! Look at me now, LOL!!”
Cooking and meal creation, when did this start for you?
“This journey started about 15 years ago but when I did research the only meat replacement was tofu, and I wasn’t a fan of how it looked so I continued doing what I know. In 2017, “What the Health ” was trending and my partner at the time and I watched it and that night the journey began.”
When did you know you wanted to feed others?
“I’ve always loved to cook and found joy in people’s reaction to my food. My friends and ex- partners would always tell me I make restaurant quality food. It’s always been in me.”
What’s your favorite thing to create and feed others?
“That’s a challenging one because I have so many recipes that I’ve created but… if I had to pick one I’d say my favorite thing to create is the Mac and Cheeze.”
When was the concept born and what was the reason(s)?
“The concept of InnerG Cafe was born 3/2022. I was stressing picking a name that made sense and stood out. As I pondered food and what it does for you, energy came to mind because that’s literally what food does. It gives or depletes energy. The reason I spelled it InnerG is because the whole food plant based/vegan lifestyle starts within. It’s your InnerG that you bring into a room. It’s the inner God speaking to you. It’s all about you!
What’s the official birth date of InnerG Cafe?
“I launched out of my home kitchen 4/2022. Shortly after operating I learned it’s not best practice so I operated until August 2022. I went to Mexico for a month and worked on “Food Is A Love Language” while there. When I returned I focused on other ventures but was determined to find a location or food truck. In January 2023, I began 3/6/9 manifestation and literally manifested the food truck 1/17/2023.”
What inspired the menu and offerings?
“As a certified foodie, I could not give up the comfort foods I love and enjoy so I recreated them plant based style.”
What kinds of plant proteins do you use?
“I use white/oyster/lion’s mane mushrooms, jackfruit, chickpeas, and nuts (walnuts and cashews).”
Are any of your products locally sourced?
“Yes, we purchase oyster/lion’s mane mushrooms from FL Mushroom Co. I also purchase callaloo from an older Jamaican man’s garden.”
What is the mission and core values of InnerG Cafe?
“We believe the journey to anything new starts within. First transform the mind, then spirit, and the body will follow. We prepare 100% plant-based food that energizes the body and mind.”
What are 3 things people should know about InnerG Cafe?
“People should know that InnerG Cafe is here for the culture. We want to change the narrative that high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes, etc plague our community. And we want people to know that as living beings, we need living foods.”
I asked Eimi to close the interview on the subject of cannabis and hemp. I asked how she feels about hemp and cannabis for wellness and she responded: “I fully support cannabis for wellness”. I always ask chefs about their use of hemp in recipes, like hemps seeds and hemp milk. Chef Eimi advised that at this time, there aren’t any hemp ingredients in her recipes but says: “But I’m always creating new recipes. I’ve learned so much about its healing capabilities. I plan to add a few cannabis infused items to the menu spring 2024, stay tuned”.
Chef Eimi says to keep your eyes on InnerG Cafe: “We plan to host spoken word events, events in collaboration with other businesses, some parties, and some full moon ceremonies.”
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/