Gina Birch | Special to The News-Press
Sylvie Szabo, owner of Living Vine Organic Cafe in Fort Myers, is living not just one but three of her dreams.
She owns a restaurant. She cooks, bakes and blends healthful, hand-crafted foods for a living. And she’s doing it all in the sunny warmth of Southwest Florida.
“I don’t serve packaged stuff,” she said. “That’s not why I’m doing this. I’m here to promote health and good ingredients. Plus, homemade always tastes better.”
As a child growing up in Lyon, France, Szabo dreamed of visiting the United States. As a young adult, a hospitality-management internship led her to Wisconsin where, as a bonus, she met her future husband.
Retiring in Florida was yet another dream, a plan that was fast-tracked so the couple could raise their three young children in the sand rather than snow.
A certified health coach for many years, Szabo took over Living Vine in 2019, tweaking the offerings and experimenting with gluten and dairy-free baking. After lots of trial and error, Szabo has regulars and newbies alike raving over her healthful breads, muffins, cookies and doughnuts.
Baked goods aside, the cafe is known for its selection of smoothies, protein shakes and raw, cold-pressed juices, all of which are made to order. The popularity of those juices spiked during the pandemic, and it’s spiked again in cold and flu season.
“More people are wanting a natural way to feel better,” Szabo said. “The Immunizer is good for people who feel like they are getting something.”
A blend of ginger, lemon and cayenne, the drink can also be made into a warm beverage with the addition of hot water and a dash of honey and cinnamon.
The cafe’s smoothies and protein shakes are dairy free and come in more than a dozen creative combos with a myriad of extras, same for Living Vine’s organic coffees.
Healthy eating is not one size fits all, so Szabo makes sure there’s something for everyone at the cafe, including chicken, turkey and eggs for non-vegans.
“A lot of families come in, and they’re not all vegetarian,” she said. “Everyone’s body reacts differently, and people need to eat what is best for them.”
If that means animal protein, Szabo wants to make sure it’s the highest quality. Her eggs come from local farms and are a star attraction for breakfast in omelets, scrambles and wraps.
When it comes to plant-based offerings, Living Vine’s black-bean burger is hugely popular, according to Szabo. It comes on one of her handmade buns spread with her vegan, garlic-herb aioli.
Szabo believes health comes in many forms — and many colors.
Her charcoal lemonade is black. But close your eyes and Szabo said it tastes like regular lemonade, with benefits.
“It’s great for digestive issues and upset stomachs,” she said.
She makes her Blue Majik, a concoction that can be added to everything from smoothie bowls to doughnuts, with a blue-spirulina extract packed with antioxidants. Her Green Infusion smoothie features spinach, kale, pineapple, banana and mint tea.
During a recent business event, Szabo recalled people groaning at the bright greenness of it. “But when they tried it, they were amazed that it did not taste green,” she said.
Of the many dreams she’s living, this one, turning people on to healthier ways of eating, might be her favorite.
“Once you try it, you’ll find that health food really is good food,” she said.
“People just need to give it a chance.”
Living Vine Organic Cafe
Address: Royal Palm Square; 1400 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers
Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday to Friday; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday
More: 239-936-2510; livingvineorganiccafe.com