These Restaurants and Food Shops owned and run by female chefs in Orlando deserve your attention. Your Taste Buds Will Thank You.
“Who Run The World? Girls!“
Beyonce knows a thing or two about running the world of entertainment but these women chefs and entrepreneurs are the ones running and rockin’ Orlando’s food scene.
They are some of my favorite female food’preneurs and restaurant owners in Orlando who inspire me with not only their fabulous food but with their passion, drive, determination, and kick-ass attitude. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing many of them for magazine articles over the years. And, each and every time I chat with them, I leave inspired and reminded of how much I love what I do.
They’re running small businesses and growing them successfully. So regardless whether it’s Women Rock Day (January 3rd) Women’s History Month (March), International Women’s Day (March 8), American Business Women’s Day (September 22), Small Business Saturday (Saturday after Thanksgiving) or any day, I highly recommend a visit to these Orlando restaurants and eateries. Not simply because they are run by fierce, talented and passionate women. But because they serve fantastically inventive, drool-worthy food.
Bird of Paradise
Emily Rankin is the entrepreneurial force behind Bird of Paradise. A clean eating, health conscious eatery with loads of Florida flavor. For years she’s been a valuable contributor to Orlando’s local culinary movement. Now she’s transformed her corner space at East End Market into a bright, Instagram-worthy homage to the foodie paradise that is Florida. She even painted the tropical mural on the wall herself.
Her inventive menu suits all diets, from keto to vegan, with local sourced, often certified organic, produce and local raised proteins. She tells me it’s the way her and her family eats regularly so it made sense she serve that to her customers. She is passionate about supporting local and the “food is medicine” approach. Her goal is for guests to feel good when they leave. And believe me, I did!
She serves the type of food I wish I could eat every day. In fact, it’s the type of food I SHOULD eat every day.
After dining on creamy avocado and coconut dip, and hearty shrimp and tempeh rice and veggie bowls, I wished I lived closer to East End Market (or that she expanded into more locations!). I would happily give Emily all my money to feed me regularly.
I loved the crisp veggies with the dip. But she doesn’t judge if you go for the chips option, because let’s face it. Some days you need chips and dip. The dip however is vegan, organic and guilt free. The citrusy wild Florida red snapper ceviche with plantains was perfectly tart, fresh and bright.
And if you need a drink, Emily provides guilt-free options as well with fantastic sangrias and mocktails made with colorful teas and fresh juices. The menu follows a no sugar mandate but the bright fresh flavors deliver. It may take some adjustment and a few visits to overcome your sugar addiction. Try the Sangria with Butterfly pea tea, a Thai purple tea, sparkling wine and juices. It was just as pretty as it was tasty.
Go: Bird of Paradise at East End Market, 3201 Corrine Drive, Audubon Park, Orlando.
Chef Jillian Hopke, winner of season six of the Food Network show “Cupcake Wars,” won Orlando’s cupcake scene in the process. She serves up all the classic flavors you expect. However, it’s her inventive cupcakes inspired by savory dishes that makes Jillycakes stand above the the rest. Her Thanksgiving Dinner savory cupcake is an eye opening, taste bud tempting surprise.
Her Sweet Potato Pie cupcake won the Dressed for Success Cupcake Challenge in 2018 when I was one of the judges, marking her 3rd win at the local fundraising event. (I can’t disclose who I voted for in first place but I think you can guess. wink wink)
Although cupcakes are her claim to fame. She also bakes impressive cakes for all occasions and has a strong local following for weddings, baby showers, gender reveals and more. She first opened her popular bake shop in Winter Park in 2014. In early November 2019, she’s moved operations to ICON Park on International Drive. No doubt she will now capture the hearts of Orlando visitors from around the world.
Hopke also teaches baking classes at The Wheelhouse Market on special occasions so be on the lookout for those event announcements.
Go: Jillycakes, at ICON Park, 8375 International Dr, Orlando.
La Femme du Fromage
I stake claim to be the first person to ask Tonda Corrente, owner of La Femme Du Fromage, for her autograph. It was grand opening night of her popular cheese shop in East End Market back in 2013. And, it wasn’t even her book. That honor belonged to celebrated cheese expert Max McCalman, who proudly supported Tonda’s foray into the cheese world. I knew that night she was destined for great things. Soon thereafter the rest of Orlando and the world would find out about her passion for cheese.
Since then, she’s been featured on The Cooking Channel, The Travel Channel and more. You can call her “The Mistress of Manchego. The Guru of Gouda. The Cheese Wiz of Orlando.” But kidding aside, she’s earned the accolades as the cheese expert of Orlando. Her shop could not be named more appropriate, she’s in every sense “The Cheese Lady.”
Tonda is an educator at heart and loves to share her knowledge of all things cheese. I learned from her how to make the most epic grilled cheese sandwich. Click here to find out the secret. Her Friday night Grilled Cheese Happy Hours where she pairs inventive grilled cheese sandwiches with local brews is quite popular. It’s even been named as one of the best in the country by USA Today!
I’ve also learned how to create surprising pairings of wine, cheese and chocolate from her and The Tasty Trio (comprised by equally inspiring Jill Ramsier of Quantum Leap Winery and Lisa Wilk of Orlando Uncorked and TasteCookSip.com.) Don’t miss their tasting events and seminars at Epcot and Quantum Leap Winery through the year.
Go sample artisanal cheeses from around the world on a beautiful charcuterie and cheese board and then take home more to enjoy. Her catering options are fantastic. Keep an eye out for her next Supper Club Dinner. Imagine a sumptuous multi-course feast where cheese is included in every course!
I’m also excited for her next venture – A cool wine, cheese and dessert restaurant in the North Quarter District. Sounds epic! Be on the lookout for in the first half of 2020.
Go: La Femme du Fromage at East End Market, 3201 Corrine Drive, Audubon Park, Orlando.
Tracy Liffey and Christine Mitchell opened New General off Park Avenue in Winter Park in 2017. Inspired by the General Stores of years ago, it’s a hybrid retail store and cafe. However, this one features a much more modern take. Serving trendy avocado toast, poke bowls, baked goods from local shops and a killer coffee program featuring local Lineage Coffee.
It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon, get work done on your laptop with a gorgeous vanilla, lavender or maple latte (using housemade syrups) and a sweet treat.
Brunch or lunch with friends sharing one of their seasonal frittata and toast creations or healthy bowls. Various plant based options on the menu so everyone will be satisfied. While you’re there pick up a fun local made gift.
Liffey and Mitchell noticed the reemergence of general stores — and utilized each of their knowledge bases (Liffey in retail and Mitchell in the food industry) to bring it to Winter Park. They share a minimalist “quality over quantity” philosophy and strive to offer useful and beautiful products made locally.
Go: New General: 155 New England Ave, Winter Park.
Liz Doerr’s doughnuts are some of the most sought after in Orlando. The name “Orlan-Dough” is not only catchy, it’s rather appropriate. They’ve been named “Critics Choice” best doughnuts in Orlando by Orlando Sentinel in 2019. You can only find them at pop up locations and events around town. From coffee shops to malls, East End Market and more. They can be tough to pin down. When you do, don’t miss the opportunity. I first tried these glorious spheres of heaven at New General’s anniversary event. The S’mores and Lavender Latte donuts were to die for.
One look at her Instagram account and I think you’ll be drooling too. Follow on social and check website calendar to see where you can get your hands on these delicious treats. They also do quite a bit of catering and even host beer and doughnut pairing events with Orlando Brewing. There’s a doughnut for everyone on the menu, including vegan and gluten free, raised and old fashioned. Cakes and macarons too!
Go: OrlanDough, pop up locations around town.
Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria
To say that Pom Pom’s is just a sandwich and tea shop would be severely underestimating the culinary prowess of chef / owner Pom Moongauklang. To say she makes some of the best sandwiches in town, is much more on point.
Born and raised in Thailand, she professionally trained as a pastry chef and worked in some of the best restaurants in New York. All simply because she considered it a challenge. Although her popular late night restaurant has been open since 2005, she is constantly coming up with creative sandwiches packed full of flavor and tea blends to accompany them. Chatting with her, you can’t help but feel her passion for food.
Every day is Thanksgiving Day at Pom Pom’s with her famous “Mama Ling’s Thanksgiving” sandwich. A perfectly layered cake of a sandwich with turkey, Gouda, stuffing, ginger cranberry chutney, mashed potatoes, cream cheese with a side of gravy. In fact, she once shared her secret for a well-built sandwich: all the ingredients must spread to touch all four corners of the bread so that each bite is the perfect bite of bread and filling.
The Chez G Sandwich with ooey gooey smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese and Chorizo is out of this world. Soups and desserts of the day are always a must order. The restaurant is open 24 hours on weekends.
Go: Pom Pom’s Teahouse and Sandwicheria, 67 N. Bumby Ave. The Milk District, Orlando.
I’ve been a big fan of Chef Wendy Lopez and her creative cooking since she opened Tapa Toro, one of my favorite Spanish restaurants in Orlando. Now, she fully uses the influences of her Mexican roots to present an elevated menu at Reyes Mezcaleria.
Located in the North Quarter District or Orlando. North of Downtown Orlando, the Mexican joint goes beyond tacos (although those are as tasty as any you’ll find in Mexico City) Wendy and Reyes are the real deal. Dishes like Whole Fish Huachinango Veracruz, Chile Relleno and Pork Chop Pibil will impress you.
Reyes Mezcaleria is owned by Sue Chin, together with restaurateur husband Jason Chin (who also own the fabulous Osprey Tavern and Seito Sushi in Baldwin Park). While Chef Wendy wows your taste buds, Sue ensures you feel right at home.
Sue is a talented interior designer with an eye not only for aesthetics but also for ultimately the most important quality of restaurant design, how it makes you feel. The place is not only incredibly Instagrammable, you want to actually sit and enjoy the ambience for hours.
Visit for Happy Hour (3-7p every day) or Brunch (Saturday and Sunday 11am-4pm, or any day for lunch and dinner when you’re craving really good Mexican food and cocktails.
Go: Reyes Mezcaleria, 821 N Orange Ave, Orlando
Se7en Bites and Sette Italian
Trina Gregory-Propst and wife Va Propst have created two of Orlando’s most calorie-worthy restaurants: Se7en Bites and Sette Italian. It’s safe to say they’ve put their culinary mark on this town and are helping spread the gospel that “Orlando has good food!”
Se7en Bites Bake Shop
Se7en Bites, a southern comfort food, casual eatery featuring savory and sweet goodness is located in the heart of The Milk District. It’s been featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-In, and Dives”, Travel Channel, and numerous others. If you’re wondering if the wait in line for a table is worth it. Local Orlandoans will tell you, it is! The place is a well oiled machine and the line actually moves fairly quickly. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, is all good here!
The “Seventh Trimester” buttermilk garlic biscuit topped with 5-cheese mac n’ cheese, smoked bacon, fried egg and potato chips was the first thing I tried at Se7en Bites over 5 years ago and it’s still my most favorite indulgence on the menu.
Get some sweet goodies to take home because guaranteed you’ll be too stuffed after eating any of the entrees. The salted caramel chocolate pecan pie is my absolute favorite!
Cookies and nostalgic treats like oatmeal cream pie and the uber famous from Triple D, Vanilla Bean Bourbon Bacon Moon Pie , are all worthy of indulgence. Pair it with a Nutella Turbo coffee. Hit the gym later.
SETTE is their newest venture in Ivanhoe Village. Where Trina has been the face of Se7en Bites putting a modern twist on her grandma’s recipes, Va is the driving force of the rustic Italian menu at Sette. The restaurant feels like you’re dining in the couple’s home. Enjoying good food and cocktails in a relaxed, nicely lit, comfortable space. You can’t help but want to linger.
Nosh on roasted eggplant or pork and beef balls with a chunky tomato gravy and polenta. Blistered grapes with sausage and fennel was one of the most surprising and addictive appetizers on the menu. Who knew grapes and sausage made such a fun combo?
For the pasta course, try the lasagna, beautifully made with one noodle of pasta, topped with béchamel, beef bolognese, mozzarella, pecorino, and ricotta. This is not your mom’s lasagna! It’s next level. In fact, all the pastas are hand-made. Clam Linquine and Eggplant Parmesan with pesto cream bucatini are also standouts.
And of course you must save room for dessert because Trina’s are worth “every. damn. calorie!”
Milk and Cookies, made for adults with the addition of white chocolate liqueur, is the afternoon treat I didn’t know I needed in my life. The olive oil lemon cake is pure heaven. Frosted with lemon-mascarpone buttercream, this was one dessert I did not want to share with the table.
Cocktails are equally inventive. “Whatever Lola Wants” is one of my favorite tequila cocktails in Orlando. Fresh grapefruit and Pamplemousse Liqueur do the trick! Chef Trina mentions she created this as her house cocktail for Thanksgiving to contrast the rich food. And I can definitely see why she added it to the menu at Sette. Mangia Mangia is a mantra here!
Go: Se7en Bites, 617 N. Primrose Drive, The Milk District, Orlando
Go: Sette Italian, 1407 North Orange Ave, Ivanhoe Village, Orlando.
Stasio’s Italian Deli and Market
This is a family business thru and thru. And as all families, mom runs the show! Maria Palo and her husband Louie have been in the restaurant business for decades. Their newest venture, Stasio’s Italian Deli and Market, now actively involves their children. I’m so thrilled I follow “Biggie” from Deli Fresh Threads because thanks to him, I discovered this local gem (as well as many other great sandwich shops in Orlando). Maria and her daughter Dianna are the ones to chat with and get all their recommendations. Maria is happy to feed you, as all Italian moms are! Dianna gets right down to business of making it happen.
The Deli Counter is where the magic is at. Order enormous sandwiches, fresh sliced Italian cured meats, sausages, cheeses, pasta salads, antipasto and more. The rolls are made in house and that makes a world of difference. You can grab one of the few seats at the counter and enjoy a cappuccino and Italian pastry or dessert.
You’ll find shelves packed with Italian goodies, from pasta to cheeses, pickled and jarred vegetables, sauces, olive oils and more. Perfect place to pick up a specialty item to enhance your Italian dinners at home.
On my first visit, I ordered “The Stasio” because you always order the namesake special on your first visit. It didn’t disappoint. Loaded with prosciutto, hot cappicola, mild sopressata, fresh mozarella, roasted peppers, red onion drizzled with white balsamic vinaigrette is the Italian sub of my dreams. Dare I say, this is my favorite place in Orlando for a great Italian sub? (Sorry Publix!)
On my next visit, I sampled the Pork Sausage and Broccoli Rabe, perfect mix of spicy and slightly bitter.
The Melenzani with eggplant, spinach, roasted red pepper, marinated tomatoes and fresh mozzarella is another winner.
Next time I need to try the The “Real Steak” Sandwich made with ribeye, mozzarella and hot cherry peppers. I’ve heard from so many that it’s a must eat.
Go: Stasio’s Italian Deli and Market, 210 N. Bumby, The Milk District, Orlando.
The Sanctum Cafe and Proper & Wild
Chelsie Savage wears many hats as a nutritionist, yoga teacher, self-taught chef, world traveler, entrepreneur and mom. Her mission when she opened The Sanctum Cafe in 2016 was to fill the need for health conscious and tasty meals to satisfy both meat-lovers, vegetarians and vegans.
The throngs of admirers would say she has succeeded beautifully. So much so that she now has two Sanctum locations and opened a full service, bit more upscale Proper & Wild Restaurant, off the trendy Park Avenue in Winter Park.
She also has a passion for “damn good coffee”. On my first visit I got hooked on her Dirty Chai Latte with Hemp Milk. If you need proof, here’s my post from 2016! (It still holds true today)
I had this again and again…
On my second visit, her Southwestern breakfast burrito was so filling even my meat-loving husband was happy. And the homemade hot sauce was fire!
On my third visit, it was the Sedona Bowl with sweet potato, black beans, brown rice, cabbage slaw, tempeh, and avocado ranch that made me realize damn good food was more than just their mantra on paper.
On my fourth visit, it was the avocado toast that won me over… are you seeing a pattern here?
As you can see, each time I visited The Sanctum Cafe, Chelsie’s creative plant-based menu hooked me again and again. It’s no surprise The Sanctum at Mills has become a popular hotspot and has grown to another outpost in Altamonte Springs.
Proper & Wild
At Proper & Wild, her “upscale” Winter Park venture, the space is as gorgeously Instagramable as the food, in all the best ways. Savage and her team pride themselves in making “damn good food that’s good for you.” The plant-based menu incorporates farm-fresh, seasonal produce, sourced locally and organic wherever possible. Go for drinks or coffee and heirloom popcorn topped with red miso. Addictive.
This is a fun spot for lunch or dinner with girlfriends. And, you’ll want to start with a cocktail. Don’t let the fact that it’s made with sake fool you. The Heartbeet made with yuki otoko sake, cocchi rosa, beet juice, super berries, lemon and aquafaba was dusted with “love powder.” Deliciously good for you. My girlfriends enjoyed “The Naughty List” which offered lovely fall notes and “Maple Miso Toddy” perfect for the chilly night.
Share Chickpea Fries with curry remoulade and one of their hearty flatbreads. The Elote Flatbread with cashew ricotta, roasted corn, fresno chili, cilantro crema, adobe aioli packed a spicy kick and tons of flavor.
Sicilian Daughter, the P&W vegan version of Eggplant parmesan with crispy eggplant, lentil bolognese, cashew ricotta, and pistachio was absolutely sinful. And surprising that us non plant-based eaters at the table found it equally satisfying as any meaty version.
End the meal with Passion & Orange Pot De Creme. The perfect indulgence to feel good about life’s choices. It also didn’t hurt that it reminded me of a tropical vacation.
Go: The Sanctum Cafe, 715 N. Ferncreek Ave., Unit D, Mills District, Orlando.
Go: Proper & Wild, 155 E Morse Blvd, Winter Park.
Swine & Sons Provisions
Chef Alexia Gawlak together with husband Rhys, has turned Swine & Sons into a must for anyone looking for honest to goodness good food, charcuterie and inventive catering. They make everything in house or source from small producers.
Located inside The Local Butcher & Market, step up to the counter and order lunch or pick up a variety of goodies to go. Their Florida Shrimp Roll Sandwich is a favorite with Key West pink shrimp topped with fennel, arugula, citrus segments, fines herbs, and citrus vinaigrette. Housemade pickles on the side are a must!
There’s Avocado Toast and then there’s THIS open-faced Avocado Toast. House-cured bacon, fried egg, and tomato relish take it to the next level. It was a crowd favorite in the old location next to The Ravenous Pig (which is where Rhys and Alexia came from prior to opening S&S in conjunction with owners James and Julie Petrakis.)
The Country Shaved Ham and Cheddar Chive Biscuits were once on the secret menu. Now they are popular favorites at their catered events. Housemade pates, sausages, terrines and more mixed with a variety of artisanal spreads, pimento cheese and ham jam and such are one of the reasons their catering is so fantastic.
Go: Swine & Sons, 669 N Orange Ave, Winter Park.
Chef Michelle Hulbert, Maker of Sweet Things
Pastry Chef and Dessert Queen Extraordinaire Michelle Hulbert deserves special mention on my list. The former pastry chef of K Restaurant in College Park does not own a brick and mortar restaurant, however, her new dessert catering business is one you must check out. Her chocolate peanut butter pie and s’mores ice cream sandwich were one of the reasons I hosted my wedding at K.
Now Michelle has ventured on her own lending her dessert making prowess to Cuisiniers Catering and area restaurants, as well as selling directly to the public. Order your sweet treats from Chef Michelle Hulbert and follow her Instagram for sweet inspiration.
Very Special Mentions: Women Chefs Pioneers of Orlando’s Culinary Scene
A list about kick ass female chefs in Orlando would not be complete without Chef Julie Petrakis, co-creator of The Ravenous Pig and Chef Kathleen Blake of The Rusty Spoon. They have both been recognized with James Beard Award nominations and have been an integral part of the growth of Orlando’s culinary scene. Some may say, they have paved the way for many others in town.
Both Petrakis and Blake, and countless other talented chefs in Orlando, were also mentored by two time James Beard Award winner Chef Melissa Kelly of Primo Italian Restaurant at JW Marriott. You could say Chef Kelly is the OG of women chefs in Orlando. She’s based in Rockport Maine where the first Primo is located and visits the Orlando location through the year.
Although Chef Julie Petrakis is not hiding in the kitchen of The Ravenous Pig quite as much on a day to day, her creative influence is felt across their various restaurant ventures (including The Polite Pig, Cask & Larder). If you have the opportunity to enjoy her dishes and chat with her at special charity events like Cows N Cabs and others around town, take it. She’s absolutely delightful.
Chef Kathleen Blake sold her award-winning The Rusty Spoon restaurant earlier in 2019 much to the collective woe of Orlando foodies. Since then she’s embarked on what she calls a “year of living dangerously.” And what a delicious journey it has been to follow on her Instagram account @chef4alls.
From taking part in an epic “Diva Dinner” with mentor and friend Chef Melissa Kelly, to the James Beard Chef Action Summit, to co-hosting dinners with Chef Kevin Fonzo of La Tavola, Kathleen shows no signs of slowing down. I just hope she opens another eatery here in Orlando because I miss her genuine farm to table goodness. And her red deviled eggs, were seriously the best ever.
Got any other Women Chefs in Orlando to add to this list?
By all means, this list is not complete. There are more rockin’ women chefs that I intend to add, but I need to gather more info. For the sake of publishing this post, please consider this the first installment. I will update it so please bookmark it, pin it and save it for later.
Do you have a favorite female restaurant owner, chef or food’preneur in Orlando I should add to the list? Please share in the comments.
I hope this list inspires you to support Orlando’s women chefs and entrepreneurs. Their small businesses are big on flavor and passion! Plus, women who support women and raise each other up are my kind of women. Food with a side of inspiration is always so much tastier. Enjoy!
Go #MakeSomedayHappen one delicious bite, sip and trip at a time.