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  • Tara Crutchfield

Morena’s Restaurant Cafe

“My first memory of food was when I made rice with my grandmother back in the Dominican Republic. I was five years old,” Morena Mazorra said, smiling. “I made it in this little, tiny pot.”

Grounded by her Dominican roots, Mazorra unofficially started baking in 2009. She and her husband had both lost their jobs. “We were newlyweds with a newborn baby,” she said. Mazorra majored in culinary arts in New York, so cooking for others was a no-brainer. She started selling food and desserts from her West Palm Beach home the following year.

Years later, Mazorra worked at Advent Health in Davenport and baked part-time from home. When the pandemic started, she quit the hospital and went full-time with her business, Morena’s Cakes & More. “We were trying to open up a bakery in Lake Alfred, but that didn’t work out,” she said. When the brick-and-mortar fell through, “I didn’t want to cook. I didn’t want to bake. I didn’t want to leave the house.”

Encouraged by her customers to persist, Mazorra began selling her treats at the Winter Haven Farmers Market. “Little by little, Winter Haven became our home.” She grew a cult-like following, with a constant line at her farmers market tent. “That’s when I started introducing the ‘more’ in Morena’s Cakes and More.” She began offering empanadas, which are now one of her best sellers.

She eventually rented a small space inside the Hippie Suitcase on 1st Street S in Winter Haven. Mazorra started with coffee and empanadas, but customers asked for other delights like white rice and Cuban sandwiches. “It just got too big, and I couldn’t work from that place,” she said.

“I wasn’t looking for a place. I wanted to stay working from the farmers market,” Mazorra said. “And then, we found this.”

“Once we came in here and I actually had the keys, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. That was three months ago, and it hasn’t yet fully hit her that she owns her own Winter Haven Bakery.

Morena’s Restaurant Cafe, situated on Avenue C SE, is a family business. Mazorra works with husband Jose and daughters Belle and Eliana. The two girls love spending time with their mom in the kitchen. Jose is originally from Cuba and was raised in Miami. Morena was raised between New York and the Dominican Republic. “I’m bringing our roots – the Cuban and Dominican flavors together,” she said. “I want to give everyone that comes a sense of belonging like they’re back home. […] That first bite or cup of coffee takes you back to your roots.”

The flavors that most remind her of home are white rice, beans, and chicken stew, one of her top sellers. “I used to always see my grandmother make that, and she would cook for the whole neighborhood,” she said. Everyone in the neighborhood knew that if they were hungry, they could go to Mama Juana’s house. “She would cook this big pot, and everyone would come.”

Walking into the humble space, one is greeted with the savory aroma of freshly baked and fried goods accompanied by a comfortable feeling. “We make everything fresh,” she said. There can sometimes be a bit of a wait, but be patient because Mazorra is busy making magic in her modest kitchen. She does all the cooking and baking herself, working seven days a week. “I feel like this is my home, everyone’s home.”

Just like her grandmother, Mazorra serves generous portions. Ever the gracious hostess, she brought out a platter of all her most popular menu items, some regular size and some minis, which she offers with catering. The plate was arranged with chicken empanadas, beef empanadas, potato balls stuffed with seasoned ground beef, ham croquetas, yuca fries, and housemade cilantro garlic sauce and mayo ketchup.

Each item was savory and satisfying. The beef empanadas were crispy pockets filled with generous portions of meat, hints of red and green peppers, and onions. Mazorra slow-cooks and shreds the chicken for her empanadas, too. The house-made cilantro garlic sauce was good on everything and could easily be eaten by the spoonful. If she sold it by the bottle, I’d buy it.

“I like to go by what customers say,” Mazorra noted. “They say that they come here and feel like they’ve walked into their family’s house.” One customer sat down to enjoy the beef stew and, after the first bite, remarked, “This reminds me of my grandmother’s food, who passed.”

In addition to her out-of-this-world fusion lunch offerings, Morena’s serves breakfast. Choices of ham, bacon, cheese, and eggs on a tostada, bagel, freshly baked croissant, and Puerto Rican Mallorca make it hard to choose. When she’s on a roll in the kitchen, Mazorra will whip up a Dominican breakfast with the three ‘golpes’ or punches, as they like to call it. Mazorra called it ‘the breakfast of champions,’ with mashed plantains, fried salami, fried cheese, and fried eggs.

The Morena’s Restaurant Cafe owner envisions having a larger space to bring more folks together in the future. She also hopes to grow the business to the point that she will one day be able to step away from time to time to be with her family. “If I want to spend time with my kids, they’re here. If not, they don’t see me,” she said of her currently demanding schedule.

With teary eyes, Mazorra thanked God, her family, sister, customers, and the Winter Haven Farmers Market. “Everyone since day one, since the Lake Alfred bakery didn’t happen – I went into a horrific depression – and they kept me going.” They would tell her, ‘Keep your head up. One day, it’s going to happen.’ “And here we are.”

Morena’s Restaurant Cafe

586 Avenue C SE, Winter Haven

(561) 729-1764

FB: Morena’s Cakes & More Bakery Cafe, LLC (Morena)

IG @morenascakesandmore

Photography by Amy Sexson


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