The Bandidas Bake Shop will be located at 1755 E. Edgewood Drive — one block west of Jessie’s Gourmet Sandwich Cafe, which opened in September, and Scarpa’s Italian restaurant, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary next month. The space was formerly occupied by Christopher’s Cafe.
The couple behind the business, Gabriella and Giovanna Favilli-Vigoreaux, shared the news on Facebook and Instagram, telling their loyal followers: “It’s been QUITE the journey filled with many ups and downs. But the biggest UP of all has been YOU, all of our amazing customers … We’ve dreamed of this, individually and together, for our entire lives.”
The Latin-inspired bake shop will offer breakfast, lunch and grab & go fare. It will have indoor and outdoor seating, but no delivery services. The women hope to be open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on the weekends from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The grand opening date is still being decided, but their plan is to open in January.
“People can expect all (of) the baked goods they’ve come to know and love like the hippie scone, whole-wheat salted chocolate chunk cookie, empanadas, and our guava pastelito layer cake. There will also be new pastries and breakfast items along with some lunch fare — soups, salads and sandwiches on our homemade focaccia bread,” said Gabriella. She added that they’re also known for their Thanksgiving holiday pre-orders of pecan pie and pumpkin spiced hippie scones.
Cooking at Catapult
Bandidas got its start working out of the commercial kitchen at Catapult. Through the incubator program, the women were able to get an annual food permit and participate in Catapult programs such as its pop-up lunch series, its Holiday Box Program, its Expert-in-Residence Program, and catering opportunities.
“Catapult was instrumental in helping us start our business by providing us with a space to cook out of. The kitchen team — Maggie Leach and Elena Schillinger — is amazing and so supportive. They helped answer all (of) our questions from the very beginning and never stopped helping us look for a location,” said Giovanna.
Leach is Catapult’s Kitchen & Strategic Initiatives director and, like many, refers to the Bandidas owners as Gabi and Gio. She said Catapult’s hope is that every business in the kitchen incubator program transitions into a bakery, restaurant or manufacturing space.
There are currently 11 food-based startups that have made the jump from Catapult into brick-and-mortar locations, according to Leach. A few of those include Vegetation Plant Food, Blue Dog Craft Barbecue, Honeycomb Bread Bakers, Krazy Kombucha, Essential Catering Solutions and Born and Bread Bakehouse.
“Typically, we see businesses launching from Catapult, whether into their own space or a space shared with an industry colleague, between six months to three years,” Leach said. “To see Bandidas accomplish this milestone is so rewarding for our team…We are ecstatic for Gabi and Gio…We believe that Bandidas adds value to the Lakeland community by providing high-quality fare featuring their unique culinary experience.”
“Gabi and Gio both come from an impressive culinary background and have shown tenacity through many challenges. Their ability to pivot and to listen to what their customers desire has been key to their success,” she said.
Food as a love language
The women started Bandidas in 2021, in the middle of the pandemic, with the goal of creating “an inclusive space where everyone was welcome.” Bandidas refers to female bandits who defy societal norms and go on daring adventures. It was a term of endearment Giovanna’s parents used for their spirited, mischievous daughter.
“We each had our own food businesses at the time. Gabriella had Vicky G’s and sold empanadas, and (I) had Casita Verde and sold Nicaraguan food. Eventually, we started living together and found ourselves collaborating on everything and dreaming up ideas about something we could build together,” Giovanna said.
Gabriella, 33, grew up in Winter Haven while Giovanna, 28, grew up in Lakeland. The two met in New York City and dated long distance for months, as Gabriella returned first to open her own business. The pandemic convinced Giovanna to return home. While growing Bandidas, the two also fell in love and married on Oct. 23, 2022.
Both have extensive experience in the culinary industry, having studied at the International Culinary Center in New York City, albeit at different times.
Gabriella spent much of her career in New York City, taking on various roles such as head baker at Smith Canteen in Brooklyn, and working on the founding team of Cherry Bombe, a media company which celebrates women in the culinary industry. She drew on her Puerto Rican roots to start Vicky G’s, offering handcrafted empanadas with traditional and not-so-traditional fillings. She’s also a freelance food writer.
Giovanna is a first-generation American who traveled to Nicaragua with her family several times a year when she was growing up. She has cooked at popular restaurants in New York City such as Lalito, El Fiorista and Smith Canteen. Her food is inspired by the fresh produce and flavors of her grandparents’ farm in Masaya, Nicaragua
Both women are also recipe developers and have had their creations featured in Bon Appetit.
Cheerleaders, mentors and a lucky break
In the early days of Bandidas, they partnered with Stephanie Bernal, who created Buena Market, to throw nighttime food-focused events. True to their Bandidas name, they — and quite a few other food vendors trying to keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic — fed the foodies of Lakeland who wanted to come out again and socialize. Eventually Bernal left the group as they began to expand.
“I am glad to have been involved in the launch of Bandidas. Though we all loved working together, I received a job offer at about the same time we realized they had the next steps under control,” explained Bernal, who is now the director of events at Bonnet Springs Park. “Closing that chapter was bittersweet for us all, but more than that, we were all thrilled to see what successes awaited us. And as close friends, we continue to cheer each other on in work and life.”
Those next steps included becoming a pastry provider for the coffeeshop N+1 in Winter Haven. Nowadays, you can find their baked goods at Pressed Books & Coffee in downtown Lakeland, or Cafe Zuppina at 4417 S. Florida Avenue.
“Eventually our wholesale and catering businesses started growing and we realized we wanted to focus on our love of baking. We became fixtures at the Winter Haven and Lakeland Farmers Markets, something we hope to continue to do even with a brick and mortar. We always knew the end goal was going to be a physical space, but it took quite a while to find the right fit,” Gabriella said.
“It took a lot of rejection and hard lessons but we believe everything unfolded the way it was supposed to. Edgewood is our dream location for the bake shop and market,” Giovanna said, adding that they’ll have a small, curated selection of market items in the new space.
Networking helped them find their dream location. Fellow baker and someone they saw often at markets, Raitza Vargas Cruz, owner of Zaza & Co., told them that the previous tenant, Christopher’s Cafe, was moving out. Friends to all involved, she connected the two.
“We owe all (of) this to her,” Gabriella said, adding they credit their mentors for much of their success. “Surround yourself with mentors who want to see you succeed. Be patient and stay true to yourself but also work really hard and don’t be afraid to stand up (for) what you’re worth.”
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