With a scarlet knife gripped in her right hand, Amira Chomiak chops pieces of dark chocolate for some special brownies she makes for friends. She jokes as she mixes the cannabis butter in a stainless-steel bowl that these are seriously some plant-based brownies. And although you cannot find them for sale on her Instagram, what you will find is a variety of 100% vegan, artisanal, gluten-free, and soy-free bakery options for purchase from piña colada cupcakes to vegan lasagna.
“I feel grateful for all of you,” Chomiak told her Instagram followers in a post the day before attending her first Vegan Block Party, a plant-based festival held in Virginia Key last month, as a vendor. “Thanks to all of you, this dream began and continues.”
The dream she refers to is her pandemic-born business, Vegan Moon Kitchen. While COVID -19 thwarted the prospects of many small businesses, Chomiak has grown hers by curating mouth-watering Instagram posts and spending Saturday afternoons at the Coconut Grove Saturday Organic Farmers Market.
Hosted by Glaser Organic Farms, the market has served South Florida for over two decades. Chomiak credits the market with allowing her to expand her clientele and to learn and collaborate with other vegan business owners.
She brings in around $2000 a month in sales at the market alone and, in less than a year and a half, has accumulated more than 4600 Instagram followers.
Her success, to some degree, reflects the rise of veganism in the United States. This past January, Globaldata, an analytics and consulting firm, reported a 500% increase in a seven-year span in the United States of consumers who identify as vegan, many of whom made the switch to plant-based diets for environmental reasons.
One of those recently-turned vegans — and a Chomiak devotee and friend — is 21-year-old Josymar Alencar, a Miami resident from Colombia. She says she believes being vegan is “best for her body, for the animals, for nature, and the world.”
Chomiak attributes the birth of her business to her upbringing in Caracas, saying that baking is “in [her] blood.” She spent much of her time as a young girl with her grandparents, who fled to Venezuela from Ukraine during World War II. Helping her grandma Nadia replicate Ukrainian bread and taste-testing her grandpa Tato’s fruit jams is how she first fell in love with baking in her grandparents’ kitchen.
Chomiak’s passion and grit have always been a driving force in her endeavors. Jetzabet Gonzalez, who has been friends with Chomiak since the first day of kindergarten, recalls her spirit even as a child, saying, “Amira is a very committed person in her convictions, and that has helped her to be disciplined and orderly in her projects.”
Chomiak, 32, used this determination to better her life after coming to the United States nine years ago. She became an “overnight vegan” in 2016. Out of the blue, she replaced cow milk with plant-based milk and cut out red meat completely. “One day, I just realize[d] I didn’t want to keep eating animals,” she said. “I just switched overnight. I had a bunch of stuff in my fridge and then just gave it away. Like, ‘Hey, do you want some fish?'” she laughs with chocolate-stained hands that act as a bridge to reveal just a few of her 32 tattoos that start on her wrist and run their way up her arm.
Before starting her business, Chomiak began making chocolate through an online workshop with a chocolatier from England. In 2018, after learning to create and bake with vegan versions of the stuff, she received an online certificate verifying her status as a chocolatier. From there, she created a brand called “Choco lune.”. She discusses the time-consuming process of making chocolate from scratch this way: “I wasn’t putting all of my effort into the chocolate,” she said. “So, I got kind of frustrated.”
It wasn’t until after she returned two years ago from a long trip to Europe, where she was inspired by the number of vegan restaurants, that she came up with the idea to start making sweets other than chocolate. From there, she launched the business Vegan Moon Kitchen on Instagram. That was around the time the pandemic struck.
“Instagram worked really well for me because I started doing live streaming from home,” she said. “I had a good audience by that time because people were stuck at home.”
After a successful launch on Instagram, Chomiak premiered her website, allowing users to place orders through pick-up or delivery. Among the top sellers on her site are the six gluten-free doughnut boxes. The cost is $40, allowing customers to pick from her 14 flavors, including pistachio, guava, peanut butter choco chunks, and blueberry. Also available for purchase is her signature E-book, which includes 14 delicious vegan recipes for breakfast and small bites.
Chomiak’s friend, Alencar, praises the coconut-filled doughnut with dulce de leche, made with dates and cashews.
She also acknowledges Chomiak’s drive to create and maintain a successful business during the age of COVID. “Amira is very talented and passionate. She’s all about being healthy,” she says. “She puts a lot of effort and love in what she does because she loves it, and you can see it.”
Chomiak discusses the challenges of operating a small business during slow periods, explaining she has worked as a server at a vegan restaurant to support herself while growing her business. “It’s hard because you cannot live from this. You cannot pay for all of your stuff from this,” she says. “You have to do something on the side and keep doing this. Because this is going to get somewhere.”
She hopes to one day expand her business into a vegan and allergy-friendly restaurant and bakery.
“I see a place and it’s going to be cozy and all homemade food,” she says. “That’s what I want to have.”
In addition to purchasing products from her website, you can find Vegan Moon Kitchen every Saturday at the Coconut Grove Saturday Organic Farmers Market, located at 3300 Grand Ave,. Her products are also for sale at Manna Life Food in downtown Miami and at Under the Mango Tree in Miami Beach.
Chomiak allows her passion to flow into products, all made 100 percent from scratch, in her South Beach apartment kitchen. With a smile, she offers me a taste of her dulce de leche from a wooden spoon before my departure. And as I indulge in the sweet and mellow flavors of this plant-based delight, my eyes meet a sign above a multi-tiered rack of fresh fruits and vegetables that reads, “Happiness is homemade.”