Tucked away in the heart of Orlando along the Mills 50 district of downtown stands a green 1920s-styled house, neighboring several holistic businesses along Thornton Avenue.

Dandelion Communitea Café is an organic and eco-friendly eatery that has been offering vegan and vegetarian fare, as well as premium loose-leaf tea, since its opening in 2007.

"Dandelion is very unique because from the very beginning, we've had a very strict policy on sourcing food that is organic, getting things as local as possible and, even as far as our disposable containers, getting things that are already recycled or are recyclable," said Justin Tighe, a former UCF student who works at Dandelion.

Sticking to those food philosophies hasn't always been easy, though. After eight years of serving Orlando customers, Dandelion Café has experienced the growth of local businesses in its surrounding areas.

"When Dandelion first opened, there wasn't a lot of local business infrastructure," Tighe said. "I've seen it really kind of rise out of nowhere. It's been a lot of grassroots, purposeful local initiatives for small businesses, so now we do have farm-to-restaurant suppliers that did not exist before."

Owner and co-founder Chris Blanc said the restaurant has been able to better incorporate local foods into its menu over time.

"We're definitely more local now than when we started," he said. "As more restaurants come on board, it's a lot easier for the local farmers because they have more clients."

The growth has allowed Dandelion to continue serving local food at reasonable prices. On Mondays, customers can enjoy $5 Giddy Up bowls or wraps that include tempeh chili topped with blue corn chips, diced tomatoes and scallions served with vegan queso.

The menu, which is completely plant-based, resulted from the co-founders' decision to offer only vegan and vegetarian dishes due to the sustainable nature of the process needed to produce them.

"Through the process of developing the business plan, we were going in an all-organic direction, but we didn't realize we would be opening an all-vegetarian restaurant until we started looking at the economy of it," Blanc said.

The cost and environmental impact of producing vegetarian food is significantly lower when compared with meat-based dishes, Blanc said. The economic and health benefits of vegetarian food were the main deciding factors in establishing the restaurant's menu.

"The whole reason why we were leaving our traditional job markets and opening up a restaurant was that we wanted to bring something new and beneficial to the community that would better it," he said. "We've really grown with the community and responded to their needs."

Since the opening of the café, Blanc acquired and maintains a vegetarian diet and said he has since been inspired to open more restaurants that offer local and organic food across Orlando.

If you go:

618 N. Thornton Ave., Orlando

Monday - Saturday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Sunday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Daniela Marin is the Entertainment Coordinator for the Central Florida Future.

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