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Meet Jeremy Santos of Orlando Bearded Vegan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeremy Santos.

Hi Jeremy, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
Hi friends, my name is Jeremy Santos and I am a local Orlando vegan influencer. I began my vegan journey about three years ago due to health conditions causing me to have chronic stomach pain. Transitioning to veganism was not a decision I thought I was going to make in my life but besides health conditions, I am happy to be playing a major role in reducing my carbon foot. In my journey, I discovered there were many restaurants that offered vegan options, I never noticed before. I began reading blogs, books and looking on social media for more tips and advice on snacks, drinks and food substitutions. In my quest, I realized there were not many vegan food bloggers in my city. Being a millennial, I rely on Instagram to see which foodies post about vegan options and what can be substituted from restaurants to make an item vegan.

Since I felt Orlando at the time lacked vegan foodie pages, I began my blog @Orlandobeardedvegan in April of 2019 on Instagram to not only help myself learn and grow in my new eating lifestyle but I also hoped I could aid others who maintained a vegan diet. In Florida, we had some plant-based events and festivals that took place throughout the year but I felt central Florida lacked monthly plant-based events. That is when I started brainstorming how I can offer more events because I would notice there lacked plant-based products and food when I would go to other markets. In January 2020, my event business partner and I launched the Vegan Festival, which included food, skincare. Alcoholic vendors, yoga and food demonstrations. The event had a fantastic turnout and it had people wanting more. Unfortunately, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, we needed to postpone any and all events until further notice.

In the meantime, I supported our local plant-based businesses by featuring their food and ordering curbside or pick-up. Fortunately, with the cases lowering, our economy and stores slowly opening up, I decided to launch The Vegan Outlet, connecting the community to everything plant-based in December 2020 with CDC recommended guidelines. The guidelines included temperature checks for vendors, masks required for vendors, attendees, hand sanitizers required at each booth and 6 feet distance. I created my business Orlando Bearded Vegan, LLC, to continue hosting events and festivals. In February 2021, my event business partner and I hosted the Vegan Food and Wine Festival at the Apopka Amphitheater and it was a major success. People have reached out for weekly events because some people are unable to attend during the weekends, so I have recently bi-weekly Takeover Thursday plant-based market at the Persimmon Hollow Brewery in downtown Orlando. I am focused on showcasing vendors that offer soaps, desserts, plants, candles, acai, clothing, etc. My events for Central Florida are just beginning and I am hoping to expand to other cities.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
When I first became vegan, my family did not understand why I gave up animal products and I faced criticism that I would become or begin looking ill. At first, I would get upset at the ignorant comments but I decided I needed to take this opportunity to educate all my family and friends in my life about veganism and hopefully even encourage them to make the transition. It has been a slow process but I was proud during Thanksgiving, my family cooked an entire vegan meal, we sat down and enjoyed it together. My friends are now open to going to vegan restaurants with me and are shocked with how delicious tasting the meals are. It makes me ecstatic to know my friends will now send me pictures of vegan meals they have tried, cooked or want to try and ask for my opinion. If I can make a small difference in their lives to even start with a milk substitute, I am happy. I faced challenges when I first began hosting events and festivals because I needed to build relationships with vendors and gain the trust of business owners to allow me to host at their locations. It was a challenge but I am glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to be able to provide events for others to enjoy, bring the plant-based community together and teach the nonvegans that vegan products and options are great.

We’ve been impressed with Orlando Bearded Vegan, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I am the owner of Orlando Bearded Vegan, LLC and I focus on providing plant-based events and festivals to our local community. I have launched The Vegan Outlet on Saturdays and Takeover Thursday Vegan Market, both happening bi-weekly. I am also going to be launching The Vegan Outlet pop-ups at the Apopka amphitheater this upcoming year to offer plant-based options at nonvegan events to give all people attending options. I am currently the Happy Cow Ambassador for Orlando and my responsibility is to update the Happy Cow app adding new restaurants with plant-based options and going to their locations to provide a decal sticker for people to know about the location is also able to accommodate vegan meals. I am also a yelp elite and I focus on checking in and giving reviews to restaurants that once again offer planted meals and possibilities. I know that not everyone has social media handles and by reviewing on apps, it gives people the chance to still see the plant-based meals.

Can you talk about how you think about risk?
Taking risks is essential when it comes to starting a business and if you want to be successful. My view is, if you don’t take the risk, you may be holding yourself back from making the best decision of your life. The biggest risk I have taken since my vegan endeavor would be holding and hosting events during a pandemic. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but with proper CDC-recommended guidelines, it is possible. I executed these events by providing hand sanitization stations, social distancing between vendor booths, requiring everyone to wear masks and holding events in an outdoor area. I wanted to create events and festivals that people felt comfortable attending and feeling that their safety is my utmost priority. Life is all about risks, whether it’s; starting a business, quitting your job and starting a new career path or changing your eating habits.

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