On a Street Where Pork and Beef is a Staple, Veganaroma Stands Out. In a Good Way.
By Doreen Hemlock
When her mother died of cancer in 2006, fashion designer Sabina Torrieri wondered why doctors hadn’t delved more into what her mom had been eating and suggested changes. By then, Torrieri had been a vegetarian for years, but she decided to study nutrition at school to try to avert cancer herself and help others stay healthy, too.
The result: Coral Gables’ only vegan restaurant, Vegan-Aroma Organic Cafe, where nothing on the menu comes from animals. That means not only no meats but also no eggs or dairy products. The “cheese” on the lasagna, for example, is made from nuts. Creamy smoothies use coconut milk.
Torrieri opened her cozy cafe nine years ago on SW 8th Street in an area known for Cuban restaurants specializing in pork and beef. She initially sold only raw – not cooked – vegan meals, calling her 14-seat café La Vie en Raw, a name suggested by her first chef. But that format proved “very utopian,” she says, with a smile. “How can you open a raw food place on Calle Ocho?”
Since 2013, she’s adopted the current menu that also features cooked dishes, many based on foods from her native Italy, such as minestrone soup in marinara broth and pizza served gluten- and yeast-free on a crispy, brown-rice tortilla.
Torrieri says she chose Coral Gables for the venture, partly because she wanted a place where she could concentrate on lunch for nearby office workers. Today, she counts among her best customers engineers from India who work down the block at MasTec, the infrastructure builder. She also attracts travelers heading in and out of Miami International Airport and students from the University of Miami. Top-selling dishes include ravioli, half-raw and half-cooked, made with nut-cheese between steamed, sweet potatoes on a bed of raw marinara and topped with homemade pesto, for $14.
Among frequent customers is Ricardo Martins, 39, a Brazilian who works at the nearby Latin American headquarters of Movado watches. He enjoys soup and an empanada for lunch at the peaceful locale away from the office hubbub. He likes vegan fare for multiple reasons: He prefers not to kill animals for food, feels lighter and better without eating meat and dairy, and “it helps the environment,” says Martins. What’s more, he finds Vegan-Aroma meals tasty and “so fresh you feel like home.”
Torrieri said she became vegan after studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York, because she felt meals without dairy were easier to digest and left her feeling more energized. Bottom line, says the Italian entrepreneur remembering her mother fondly: “It’s healthier.”