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Vegan dining will be "Delicious Surprise" in Seminole Heights

Michelle Ehrlich has a "Delicious Surprise" in store for Seminole Heights.

By mid-November she plans to open "Delicious (food for thought) Surprise," her plant-based, vegan restaurant at 5921 N. Nebraska Ave. She and husband Howard are sprucing up a building adjacent to the Publix grocery store. The vacant building has been home over the years to an appliance store, a sandwich shop and most recently a pizzeria. 

When it comes to the menu, Ehrlich doesn't want anyone to think of digging into a plate of lettuce and sprouts. She's out to break down misconceptions about vegan dining. 

Look for pizzas, burgers and anything else on a typical restaurant menu. But there also will be a few unexpected choices, such as tropical quinoa salad, drunk chai French toast and black-eyed pea sausage with kale and white bean gravy. The made-from-scratch menu items will feature local, organic food and produce.

"We'll be making healthy plant-based versions of these," says Ehrlich who lives in Seminole Heights and has watched the neighborhood become a destination for restaurants and bars such as Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, The Refinery, The Mermaid Tavern and Independent. "We want to offer delicious food for our community. We hope to be the ones to break the barriers (on vegan). There is a demand for this."

Ehrlich got a hint of that demand at a plant-based Bites in the Heights "pop-up" brunch in August when about 50 people showed up at a local business co-op to sample her dishes. She had planned two more "pop-up" events to test-market her restaurant concept but the pizzeria shop suddenly came on the market.

It was a chance too good to pass up so now her energies are in opening "Delicious Surprise." Ehrlich will be a vendor at the Nov. 2 "Taste of the Heights", serving up food samples within a couple weeks of the restaurant's opening.

Ehrlich and her husband eased into the vegan life-style about three years ago simply by trying to eat healthy and over time eliminating less healthy options. And then a co-worker at her husband's office asked if Michelle would cook lunches for her like those she made for her husband.

Within six weeks, she had a waiting list of clients, all from word of mouth and no marketing. "I think I've found my niche," Ehrlich says.

Word of mouth via social media is spreading the news about "Delicious Surprise." There is a Facebook page. And she is raising part of her capital through crowd-sourcing on gofundme. 

While the majority of donors appear to be local residents, Ehrlich says people from Orlando and Bradenton also have responded. "I feel like they have ownership now," she says. "The loyalty of folk, that's what I'm more emotional about. It's been wonderful."

Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a feature writer and editor at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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