Impossible hamburgers, buffalo cauliflower bites — you don’t have to be a vegan to enjoy these flavorful dishes. Take a look at most menus and you’ll notice that vegan options are becoming more prevalent. Vegans and omnivores across the nation have created the perfect climate for entirely vegan restaurants to open and thrive, and Tampa is a prime example of a city that’s been inviting and receptive to plant-based eateries. It’s not just vegans who are taking advantage. More than ever, our local culinary scene is expanding to satisfy the palates of a growing consumer base.
In Tampa, restaurateurs and chefs are showing the public that almost everything enjoyed by carnivores exists in a vegan version, too. They’re proving that vegan food isn’t just bland vegetables and salads; it’s real, satisfying food that’s crafty, innovative, flavorful and artistic. The dishes created by Tampa’s vegan restaurants reflect sustainable gastronomy that’s every bit as complex, sometimes even more so, than its carnivorous counterpart.
A pioneer of Tampa’s vegan scene is Charles Rumph, co-founder of Farmacy Vegan Kitchen + Bakery, one of Tampa’s longest standing and most acclaimed vegan hot spots. Ask any Tampa foodie about where to get a good plant-based meal and Farmacy is always at the top of the list. With three branches across Tampa Bay, it’s a popular destination for Tampanians and tourists alike. After making the decision to reduce his animal protein consumption, Rumph struggled with finding restaurants in his former city that accommodated his lifestyle.
“After talking with a friend of mine, I quit my job, moved to Tampa and we gave it a shot,” he says.
From this bold leap, Farmacy was born in its first iteration. Rumph says that it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. After burning through their startup capital in 2016, Rumph and his team moved Farmacy to one of its current locations, inside of Duckweed Urban Grocery in Downtown Tampa — and that’s where the magic happened.
“We were slammed on the first day,” Rumph says. “It was vindicating.”
Serving up foods that most people are already familiar with, like his take on philly cheese steaks, burgers, sandwiches and sides like macaroni and cheese and jerk pasta, Farmacy’s demand has only grown since its humble origins. It’s not just vegans who frequent Farmacy. Rumph notes that their menu appeals to everyone and the clientele is made up of non-vegans in almost equal share.
“What excites me most is the ability to attract people who aren’t aligned philosophically with the movement or weren’t at all interested in veganism,” he adds. “That was always the mission.”
As public demand has grown for meatless meals, food providers have been able to experiment, innovate and make use of the multitude of new and improved ingredients that have popped up in the last few years. The wide range of new products like plant-based cheese, meat and egg alternatives (that look and taste like the real thing) have allowed restaurants to expand their offerings and create high-quality, better tasting products. Rumph says that as a result, the food has gotten even better.
“It’s great that Farmacy is known not just as a great vegan restaurant, but as one of the best spots in Tampa,” Rumph says. “We compete with traditional establishments in the same category and deliver the most delicious product, period.”
Another local vegan joint that has risen up to meet the growing demand is Vegan International Co., founded by Nick Alami, a University of South Florida alum who, like Rumph, transitioned to a vegan lifestyle because he found personal and societal benefits and also recognized the growing demand for vegan dining in the area.
A native New Yorker, he sought to find a location to make all the cultural foods he had already been enjoying, such as gyros, kefta, mac and cheese with collard greens and curries. Alami’s goal was to take foods that people were familiar with and make them vegan, convenient, affordable and as close to the real thing as possible.
Alami’s efforts succeeded and Vegan International Co. currently operates as a virtual kitchen in North Tampa serving takeout meals that look as good as they taste. Alami says that he would estimate that over 40% of his customers are not vegan.
“Sometimes they see the building, they’re curious or they’re coming from the doctor’s office and trying to make a small change,” Alami explains. “We’re close to the University of Florida and the hospitals, so we get a lot of busy workers like nurses, teachers and secretaries.”
An avid restaurateur in the vegan industry, Alami also owns The Vegan Halal Cart food truck in South Tampa, as well as Vegan on the Fly, a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, New York. Having perfected the art of crafting vegan meals that are delicious and nearly indistinguishable from non-vegan ones in two states, he’s excited about more people trying out the vegan route.
“I tell people, ‘Think about your favorite food and then find the place that serves the most popular vegan version of that. If you think you haven’t eaten vegan, you have. Have you ever had a PB&J?’ I encourage people to change their mindset. Eating vegan food isn’t something crazy or out of the ordinary. It’s just eating without animal products,” he explains.
Tampa foodies have proven equally loyal to longstanding mainstays like Farmacy and Vegan International Co. as they are supportive of newcomers. One of such new restaurants is Florish, which recently opened in South Tampa. Having a background in the industry, owners Keith Sedita and Jill Faline-Sedita were inspired by their two teenage sons to go vegan. They launched Florish earlier this year to meet the rising demand in the area.
Florish specializes in fresh, flavor-forward pizzas and bowls made with plant-based ingredients.
“It’s nutrient-dense, but it’s not health food. It’s indulgent vegan,” Faline-Sedita says. “The food is approachable, so everyone can come in and feel comfortable trying things that they already relate to, enjoy and crave.”
Making vegan meats, cheeses and sauces in-house, the duo also hand-crafts dough, seasons grains, and herb-roasts vegetables, which can be enjoyed with craft beers, wines and canned cocktails.
“We’ve been intentional about perfecting flavor and texture,” Sedita adds.
Similarly to the other restaurateurs, the owners already have noticed that their clientele is made up of vegan and flexitarian foodies in equal parts, the lesson being that Tampa Bay restaurant goers just like good food. One of the most impressive newcomers to the scene is Thalia Tatham, founder of House of Vegano, a 100% vegan sushi concept serving up sushi out of a flagship restaurant in St. Petersburg and consistently selling out rolls, bento boxes and platters at Black Radish Grocer in both Tampa and St. Pete. Tatham acutely demonstrates the art of vegan gastronomy, crafting sushi rolls that are intricate and intensely satisfying. She credits going vegan with opening up her creativity and culinary skills.
“You eat with your eyes first,” she says. “ I wanted it to look like sushi and taste like sushi. I create the look and texture and then experiment to find the right flavor profile. I feel like I’ve barely tapped the surface.”
Her rolls utilize ingredients like marinated eggplant to marvelously mimic the taste, look and texture of traditional sushi ingredients like eel. She uses Lion’s Mane from local supplier Cactus Hat Mushrooms that she marinades and seasons to imitate seafood for her volcano roll.
“We definitely get a lot of vegan customers, but also non-vegans coming in saying this looks and tastes just like sushi, telling me they don’t miss the fish and they wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from a non-vegan roll,” she says. “We’re pulling the same flavors and people are asking, ‘What is this?’ It’s the biggest compliment.”
Tatham’s sushi gained a cult following before she even launched her flagship. Take a look at any of her rolls and you’ll see the creativity and culinary artistry that’s characteristic of any talented chef.
With so many options to choose from, vegan restaurants have solidified themselves as a mainstay of Tampa’s food scene, offering meals that are enjoyed by plant-eaters and omnivores alike. And the scene keeps growing. Farmacy’s Rumph predicts that it’s only a matter of time before the city is seeing fully vegan regional restaurants open that are stratified regionally and specialize in Chinese, Italian, Middle Eastern and other popular cuisines. Whatever the future holds for Tampa’s vegan food scene, it’s clear that vegan dining isn’t just a passing trend – and there’s no better time to make your next meal meatless and try some of Tampa’s vegan options for yourself.
For more vegan stories, check out 12 Places for Vegan & Vegetarian Food Around Downtown Tampa and 3 Vegan Recipes from Tampa Bay Chefs.