Vegan with Caribbean Roots
Florida, home of Disney World, Legoland, Busch Gardens, Bok Towers, alligators and crocodiles. It’s the only state that is not really a state but a peninsula, and the only state that sits on two ocean coasts: the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf Coast.
In the middle of Florida, known as Central Florida, is Winter Haven. Winter Haven is located in Polk County in between Orlando and Tampa, and is known for its: 50 beautiful lakes, world-class collection of vintage aircraft, and for the world’s largest Legoland.
Back in the day, Winter Haven (refuge from winter), was known for the place that grew the state’s fruits and vegetables with an abundance of wild citrus trees. As it relates to black history we have Pughsville; a neighborhood of Winter Haven where African Americans built community after the civil war.
As it relates to the Natives of the Florida peninsula, the Tocobago, Timucua, and Caloosa tribes occupied the land in the 1600’s.
Today, in downtown Winter Haven, is a woman owned vegan bakery and cafe, with Caribbean and Midwestern roots: Vegan Monarch Bakery and Cafe. I had the pleasure of visiting, meeting the founder and chef: Mika Altidor, and feasting on: lasagna, “beef” empanadas, fresh cut fries, and a fresh baked cinnamon roll.
My experience was marvelous. I very much enjoyed Mika’s smiling face, touring the historic building that the bakery is located in, learning about Mika’s passion, and how Vegan Monarch Bakery and Cafe serves the community around them.
In my 7th where to eat vegan feature, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Vegan Monarch Bakery and Cafe, through Mika Altidor: founder, owner, and executive chef.
Q & A with Founder and Chef of Vegan Monarch Bakery and Cafe:
Where are you from; where are your parents from; where were you raised?
“I am from Michigan and grew up in Florida. My parents are from Haiti.”
What did you do for work, or other businesses owned and worked prior to Vegan Monarch Bakery?
“I was a celebrity jewelry designer and doing Miami Swim Week.”
Give us a little insight into the 10 year old you; what were your hopes and dreams?
“Ha! Great question. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I understood that I wanted to live comfortably as an adult.”
When did cooking and meal creation start for you?
“I have always enjoyed eating and baking. Baking professionally happened for me in 2016.”
When did you know you wanted to feed others?
“I was feeding my neighbors baked brownies and cookies all the time, but 2016 was when I decided to do it professionally.”
What’s your favorite thing to create and feed others?
“My favorite thing to feed others changes often, but right now it is our buttery vegan croissants and ice coffee. Also our lasagna, it’s so good!”
When was the concept born and what was the reason(s)?
“Our business was born in September of 2016; originally Victor & Mika’s Bakery and now Vegan Monarch, because there were 0 vegan concepts in all of Polk County.”
What inspired the menu and offerings?
“We love food from so many regions that our vegan location needed to reflect vegan Italian, Asian Thursdays, American diner style, island cuisine, and Mexican dishes.”
What kinds of plant proteins do you all use?
“An assortment: Mushrooms, tofu, chickpeas, impossible patties”
Are any of your products locally sourced?
“Yes, our veggies and mushrooms.”
What is the mission and core values of Vegan Monarch Bakery?
“Core mission is to have vegan meals and desserts available for anyone in Polk County and beyond. Also, we began feeding the homeless in Orlando in 2019 through Orlando Food not Bombs, and it is our mission to provide this outreach in downtown Winter Haven. For example, we have used our social media platform to raise funds to help some homeless residents, and every customer enjoyed the experience of donating for a great cause. We asked everyone for $1 to purchase a portable cot for Wayne who lives behind our building and we raised that money in record time!”
What are 3 things people should know about Vegan Monarch Bakery & Café?
“We would like everyone to know that we are community focused. Our storefront is not just about making money, but also about connecting strangers together, making new friends over a game of chess or dominos while dining, and also about having everyone matter; whether it’s through networking them with sole of our other clients who needs their service, or building a team that can organize a food line to feed the homeless.”
How do you all feel about cannabis for wellness?
“I tasted my first relatable product by Moon Rising from Polk County, a nonalcoholic mojito a few weeks ago. It was tasty, but I am still new to the benefits of hemp, etc.”
Any hemp offerings on your menu/as an ingredient (hemp seeds/milk/protein)?
“At the moment no, but possibly in the future.”
Have you learned anything about cannabis recently that surprised you?
“No, but I am open to learning.”
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/