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  • Tara Crutchfield

Veg Out at V&M

The first thing you notice once arriving at Winter Haven’s new eatery, V&M Bakery and Café, is the warm, cozy, good-vibes feeling that envelops you as you walk in the door. It could be the scents of decadent fresh-baked pastries and scrumptious savory meals that fill the air or the aweinspiring artwork adorning the walls. It could be the cool music exciting your eardrums or just the comforting thought that you have opted for a healthy vegan lunch today. The truth is, it’s the friendly smiles on the faces of the owners and staff that combine with each of these things to create a truly unique and welcoming atmosphere. Owners Mika Altidor and Victor Muñoz, partners in life and business, give new meaning to “feel-good food” and do so with a passion and generosity of spirit that will nourish your soul as well as your body.

V&M Bakery and Café, located at 371 3rd Street NW in Downtown Winter Haven, opened on October 1, 2021, and while it’s the couple’s first brick-and-mortar, Victor and Mika have been excelling in the vegan food world for years. They started selling their vegan treats at the Winter Haven Farmers Market, where they built a strong following. They’ve created media buzz with innovative recipes like vegan churros, croissants, and vegan cannoli. They won Best Vegan Food by Haven Magazine readers in 2021. And in 2020, they published a vegan cookbook called “Chasing Vegan” (available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble) that features delicious vegan recipes and shares the inspirational story of Mika’s initial conversion to the vegan lifestyle.

The journey began when Mika was diagnosed with some health issues while working as a successful and sought-after jewelry designer in South Florida. Although she was born in Michigan, she was raised in Central Florida and considers it home. She decided to leave the jet-set lifestyle, started researching the benefits of a plant-based diet, and moved back to her “roots” here in Winter Haven. Her mother introduced her to Victor, who had moved here from Chicago years before to help out with his family’s fruit stand, and the two eventually started running the fruit stand together. Mika attributes her recovery to her decision to go vegan, and once Victor followed suit, they began baking vegan goodies to share with their customers. The couple knew they wanted to “inspire communities to welcome the idea that healthy is tasty with plant-based foods,” and Victor and Mika’s Bakery was born.

They’ve already made history with their vegan pastries, but now that they have their first brick-and-mortar, this dynamic duo is taking it to the next level with a café that offers savory fare like pizza rolls, burgers, and street tacos. Mika’s sister, and culinary chef at V&M, Maggie Thames, constantly strives to add new timeless and trendy foods. At the same time, her boyfriend and V&M manager, Kevin Barcelona, sings her praises with a kind and welcoming smile. Last week they added “Better than Meatloaf,” complete with candied yams, greens, mac n’ cheese, and cornbread, and it will make you question everything you think you know about meat. The “Be Better Buddha Bowl,” their most popular item, consists of sautéed cabbage, bell peppers, spinach, onions, and carrots served over a bed of Caribbean rice. The rice is a family recipe created by Mika’s mother, Francoise Roger, who also helps out at the café. Everything on the menu is vegan, and more than half of the menu is gluten-free or can be made gluten-free. Mika stresses that menu items can be customized to suit all kinds of dietary needs. She says of their menu, “There’s something here, literally, for everyone. If someone wants a burger, there’s a burger. If someone’s gluten-free, there’s gluten-free food here. If there’s someone that’s dairy-free or egg-free, there’s baked goods and foods here for them. If someone is vegan or just wants darn good food, there’s something here for everyone where they can grab and go or dine in and enjoy.”

V&M Bakery and Café resides in the same space once occupied by Bambu Café, a juice bar, and eatery owned and operated by Jennie P. Harrison. Victor and Mika look forward to their new endeavor in a space already associated with healthy eating. “We loved the café and what she left for the community, so it’s definitely home.” says Mika. “And we get to share that with the community, to be here and be able to provide healthy options, vegan options, right here in the heart of Downtown Winter Haven. Nothing better than that.”

These days, Victor works behind the scenes, giving Mika time to focus on the café, and it’s exactly where she wants to be. While she has always enjoyed baking, the “reaction to receiving” that people give her when she shares her delicious food with them is priceless. She gets emotional when talking about what she loves best about owning V&M. “I get to put in all of my heart and soul,” she says. “I think that’s the best part of owning because there’s no other way all of that gets unleashed. All of that passion.” After a quiet, affecting pause, Mika adds, “There are people that come in, and they don’t know I’m the owner, and I like that because I get to have a human connection, and I get to serve them. And the way people react when they come in and love the music, and they love the ambiance here, and they love the artwork, and they love the food. All of that feels great, because to be able to give that to them whether they’re vegan or not, it just feels good to see someone enjoying it. Sunday, there was a couple here, and they were here for three hours just enjoying. They sat right there and were just enjoying everything. And even though I’m working, to see them being able to feel so comfortable and feel so good, it’s like this is better than a paycheck. Right?”

Right. That might be why you get such a good feeling when you open the door to V&M. Not only do they want to show you that healthy is tasty, they are happy and honored to do so. So drop in. Be amazed. Be nourished. Relax. After all, that’s what everyone at V&M wants you to do.

V&M Bakery and Café

371 Third St. NW, Winter Haven


FB @Victor & Mika’s Bakery

IG @victormikabakery

Photography by Amy Sexson


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