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  • Tara Crutchfield

Bandidas Bake Shop Opens Soon

The couple behind Lakeland’s favorite popup café is opening a bake shop! Gio and Gabriella Favilli-Vigoreaux have dreamed of opening a bakery since they were kids. What started as two separate culinary ventures operating out of the Catapult Kitchen Incubator, Vicky G’s and Casita Verde, combined to create Bandidas.

A Central Florida native and first-generation American, Gio would travel to Nicaragua several times a year to visit family growing up. She delighted in meals made up of fresh fruits, vegetables, beef, and chicken from her grandparents’ farm in Masaya, Nicaragua. That love of food translated to a pursuit of the culinary arts down the line. After graduating, Gio moved to New York to study at the International Culinary Center and worked in restaurants and bakeries in the city. She also worked in food media and recipe development for Vice Media’s food department, Munchies. The pandemic prompted a move back to Florida, where she started Casita Verde as a creative outlet and a way to introduce Polk County to Nicaraguan food.

Gabi grew up in Winter Haven. After attending the University of Miami, she moved to New York for culinary school. She spent the next eight years working in restaurants, food media, and recipe development in test kitchens for Epicurious, Good Housekeeping, and Cherry Bombe before returning home in 2020. She pulled from her Puerto Rican roots and formal culinary training to start Vicky G’s, offering handcrafted empanadas with unique fillings and other “twists on Latin food.”

A few years ago, they joined ventures to start Bandidas pop-up café. “It just made sense,” Gabi said of the transition. “We knew we were going to get married. We’d gotten engaged, and we were spending all our time in the kitchen, side by side.”

Gio and Gabi are opening their first bake shop in the space that was formerly Christopher’s Deli on Edgewood Drive. The duo started renting the space last December and began renovations in January. “We kind of changed every single thing about the space,” Gabi said.

The oven was the only thing they bought new. “We’ve been waiting to have an oven like this for so long,” Gabi said. The enor - mous double oven they purchased from a restaurant supply store in New Jersey weighs over 600 pounds for each oven. They thought getting there would take some time, but the behemoth came overnight. The Ban - didas weren’t there for the delivery so it was dropped on the pallet in the parking lot at around 9 am. It took Gio, Gabi, and about six friends until 9 pm that night to move it inside. “That was the beginning of realizing the unknown we were about to step into,” Gio said. “Everything is heavy,” Gabi added, laughing.

There isn’t a detail the couple hasn’t touched and turned into Bandidas gold. They added seating, a bar, and a pastry counter and painted and revamped the kitchen. The reno was largely a family affair, with Gio’s broth - er-in-law Ryan Bodolay building the pastry counter along with Hunter Jayne of Jayne Woodcraft. Gabi’s brother-in-law, Phil Davis, who owns Big League Woodworks in Winter Haven, built the bar. Her cousin, artist Lara Lewison from Queens, painted a mural along one wall depicting color-drenched picnic scenes.

“I feel like it took patience in trying to figure out the layout and how it was all going to look,” Gio said. The Favilli-Vigoreauxs wanted a spacious, airy bakery that felt like them. “This feels like our house,” Gabi said. Much of the bright artwork lining the space was brought from their house. “Our gallery wall at home is empty now,” Gabi said. The walls are adorned with pieces by an artist Gio passed selling his work in Brooklyn, an illustrator Gabi loves out of London, David Horgan, and one nabbed from Webster Flea Market for $4.

The bake shop is furnished with plenty of natural materials and plants lending to its stylish, eased atmosphere. “I’m over the white, minimalist bakery look,” Gabi said. “I wanted it to look like buttercream.” Next, they hope to convince their landlord to let them paint the outside of the building. Wink wink.

The community is excited for the bakery to open, with folks even popping in as they prep for the big day. “I think people are really anxious and antsy, asking us every day,” Gabi said.

“We want it to be perfect. We don’t want to open, have a crowd, and then be in the weeds,” Gio added. “I’ve worked in places where they started too soon, and you kind of can never catch up. […] I want to have room to continue to evolve and change things up and add things to the menu.”

Opening a bakery from scratch would be as emotionally demanding as it is physically. Thankfully, the Bandidas babes have plenty of folks in their corner. Their mothers helped them deep clean. Maggie Leach, former kitchen director at Catapult Lakeland, and Elena Schillinger, Catapult kitchen manager helped them prepare for their opening inspection, on which they received an illusive perfect score. Gio and Gabi also mentioned Diana Cortes Blanquicet, owner of DOU Bakehouse. She set them up with a costing sheet, a lifesaver for pricing items. And, of course, where would they be without each other? “It’s nice to have somebody who knows exactly what’s going on,” Gio said.

“This whole build-out process has made me appreciate and be grateful for people who care about their job and care about doing it well,” Gabi said. Ridge Fire, New Electric, and some of their maintenance technicians have gone above and beyond, according to the couple.

In addition to their signature items, Bandidas will offer new savory foods like breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches, toasts, and grab-and-go meals. To wash it down, they’ll have fresh-squeezed orange juice, kombucha, cold brew, and drip coffee from Canyon Coffee out of California. Guests can elevate their cold brew with fig or cardamom syrups.

Gio especially loves making the cakes. A new addition to their cake offerings is an orange blossom cake, a poppy seed layer cake with orange marmalade and salted cream cheese frosting. They’ll also introduce mini cakes so you can pop in during the day and grab a little treat for yourself.

Another sweet addition is the vegan Ranger cookie with coconut, dates, cornflakes, and oats. “It’s the best kind of granola bar meets cookie hybrid,” said Gabi, adding that she’s excited about more savory things too.

One savory breakfast sandwich will be pork sausage, cheese, and guava caramelized onions on a biscuit. Another is a Spanish tortilla with a potato omelet on focaccia. Gio and Gabi will also have interesting bites like sardine toast. “Everything is going to be thoughtful,” Gio said. “We tested and tested again.” They gave themselves the time to perfect each item.

“We really took the recipe testing so seriously leading up to our opening,” Gio said. “Everything we’re going to serve, we put so much intention into.”

“We want to introduce flavors to people that they’re not used to having, and we have looked at so many family recipes and cookbooks that we’ve dusted off that have been at home forever, and things that we’ve eaten one time that were amazing that maybe we can pay homage to,” said Gabi. “I think in that process, we’ve created a very unique menu that is so obviously us that I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere else.”

“We’re not a competition to anyone in town because we are so different,” Gio said.

They’ve ramped up their catering and wholesale as they approach their opening date. They still deliver to Pressed, Agape Agora, and now Pour Bear Coffee. “We’re hoping to grow our wholesale,” said Gabi. “I don’t know that we’re interested in having multiple locations, but we are interested in expanding that way.”

A small curated market is on one wall of the bake shop (next to a selection of merch designed by Gio). From foods they tried on their honeymoon to treats they enjoy while hiking, “There’s so many aspects of things here that tie into us,” Gio said. Gabi added, “These are things that we love that we can’t find here. As much as we do want to collaborate with local brands, we also wanted to introduce some products that we love.”

Bandidas Bake Shop is expected to open in mid-June. On the last Saturday in June, they plan to have a Pride pop-up with Raíces Plant Shop. Don’t miss it!

Gabi and Gio have done the hard work – moving heavy equipment, completely revamping the space, and perfecting the menu. Now, they are focused on hospitality. They are both comfortable in a kitchen and hope to cultivate that same ease in customer interactions. As they approach the opening of their dream bake shop, Gabi is excited. Gio said she feels “anxiety at the highest degree” but added, “I’m so proud of us, but I feel like the journey is only beginning.”

Bandidas Bake Shop

1755 E Edgewood Dr, Lakeland

FB: Bandidas

IG @bandidasbakeshop

Photography by Amy Sexson


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