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It Doesn’t Taste Vegan: The Meaty Success of Victor & Mika’s Bakery
In this season 3 episode of Back of the Napkin, Mika Altidor and Victor Munoz, owners of Victor & Mika’s Bakery, discuss owning and operating the first and only vegan establishment in Polk County, FL, and how they balance being partners in business and life. Plus, they explain why 98% of their customers aren’t even vegan. Listen to the episode.
It seems unfathomable to the meat and potato crowd that people enjoy a meal filled with only vegetables, grains, legumes, fruit, nuts and seeds. But for some, a whole-foods plant-based diet helps mitigate a variety of food allergies and health issues. For others it can simply express a taste preference, especially if they’re fans of Victor & Mika’s Bakery.
Mika Altidor was an in-demand professional stylist and jewelry designer; Victor Munoz owned a popular produce market. Together, they now serve delicious treats and savory dishes at the first and only vegan establishment in Polk County, FL, and from their mobile kitchen. With the population of more 700,000 and a growing demand for vegan delights, the duo is in an enviable position.
As many as 6% of U.S. Consumers say they're vegan; that's a 500% increase over the last several years. Also growing at double digits in the U.S. is sales of plant-based foods. Estimates suggest the U.S. plant-based meat market will reach more than $31 billion by 2026.
Altidor and Munoz are quick to note that they cater to more than just the vegan crowd. “Over 98% of our customers are not vegan,” said Altidor. “The presentation of our foods, the way our food looks, it looks just like ‘regular,’ delicious food.”
The business also offers options for those with other food restrictions. “Someone can order a dairy-free cake for their daughter who's allergic to milk,” said Altidor. “They don't have to be vegan, but they're allergic to dairy or they're allergic to eggs, and we were the first to have that available.”
Going Great Bananas
Altidor suffered from a painful fibroid tumor condition and turned to vegan meal planning after reading it may offer relief. She reaped immediate benefits. “When I went vegan, my tumors shrunk,” said Altidor. “The pain was almost endurable and then even that went away.”
Munoz used to bring slices of Altidor’s tasty vegan banana bread to munch throughout the day at the popular produce market he owned. Customers took note—some even asked for a pinch or two from his slice—and asked when he was going to start selling loaves. Munoz saw an opportunity to repurpose the bananas many shoppers bypass for a more perfect, speckle-free piece of produce. “We could make money from something that we were throwing away,” said Munoz.
What started as 10 to 20 daily loaves quickly exploded to more than 400 . “There was an opportunity that landed in our laps with a distributor picking us up and we could not refuse,” said Altidor. “So that's how the bakery started. That was four years ago and here we are.”
Partners in Business and in Life
Building a business with a partner can be a challenge. It can be doubly so if that person is also your life partner. Altidor and Munoz acknowledge the overlap between a successful business partnership and a resilient and loving personal relationship. They readily play to each other’s’ strengths, celebrate their complementary skills, and systematically divide and conquer.
“Victor is a perfectionist, so he is the type of baker or chef that you want baking for you,” said Altidor. “He is meticulous, into details and presentations and in the preparation leading up to serving you whatever it is that you want.”
With separate workspaces, Altidor and Munoz work independently, yet rely on each other to contribute their unique creativity and passion to a project. While Munoz is the master of croissants, savory donuts, jalapeno cheddar breads, and more, Altidor excels on the more decorative side of cupcakes and anniversary cakes. “He is overseeing his own projects and I'm overseeing mine,” said Altidor. “He allows me to be free in creating and designing and I do the same for him. We don't limit each other, and we don't supervise each other.”
They also make time for life. They worked up to 120 hours a week in the early going, catching brief naps when they could. With the business established and hours reduced, they advocate for life away from work. “Rest is seriously critical, taking care of your mental state of being, taking care of your relationships, going out with your partner,” said Altidor. “All those things are critical and having a balance so that you can have a fulfilling life, a whole life, not just part of a life.”
Building a Following
Victor & Mika’s Bakery continues to grow, gathering acclaim along the way. Altidor was recently named one of the 25 Black Entrepreneurs That You Should Be Watching From Polk County and VegNews named their donuts as among the top three in the country. The duo has also authored a popular vegan cookbook.
Next steps for Altidor and Munoz include more involvement with market and restaurant wholesalers and opening a community gathering place. “It's on our mind to do,” said Munoz. “Make a place where people can come and order pick up and maybe two, three tables in the beginning to receive some customers who want to eat there.”
In addition, they continue to work with Food Not Bombs, a nonprofit organization in the Orlando area that feeds the homeless and people who are not able to financially support themselves. “That is so rewarding, and people are so grateful,” said Altidor. “They don't know that they're eating vegan from us, which is a bonus. And it's made us feel so good being there.”
With much on their shared plate, Altidor and Munoz continue to innovate new vegan dishes. “I never stay quiet in my mind,” said Munoz. “I think, ‘what else I can present, where the people can feel like’ ‘oh my god, this is amazing’ and ‘oh, this tastes really good.’”
That sounds like something this creative duo will hear for quite some time.
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