A new wave has washed over St. Augustine, bringing a tide of Latin spice, healthy eating, and a bright, comfortable atmosphere.
Buena Onda, meaning “good vibes” or literally “good wave” in Spanish, opened its doors in early February. On their Facebook page, they describe themselves as a full-service café featuring espresso drinks, plant-powered lattes, vegetarian and vegan dishes with a Latin American twist, and a selection of grab-and-go baked goods and drinks.
The restaurant is the successor to the 224 King Street building, which previously housed the Present Moment Café, a raw and vegan restaurant sharing much of the same values. After two owners and 14 years of love from St. Augustine’s vegan community, it closed permanently on July 11 of last year. For Buena Onda, the streetside location in West King makes it anything but a secret, allowing for plenty of business in its first couple of weeks.
“[It’s been] amazing,” said Jaclyn Briand, Buena Onda’s manager. “The community has definitely picked us up into their arms, and we even have a lot of people coming in because they knew the Present Moment Café.”
As Present Moment passes the torch, co-owner Amy Tarmey says that Buena Onda has big shoes to fill, and that the challenge is even greater due to COVID-19.
“It’s crazy opening a restaurant in a pandemic, but we also believe in taking risks and following our dreams,” Tarmey said. “People loved what Present Moment was, and we’ve tried to achieve that same feel and energy. We really just want to promote plant-based eating in a way that isn’t intimidating to people who aren’t used to it, with great food, great service, and a great atmosphere to hang out in.”
Tarmey shares the business with her husband, Gaston Buschiazzo. The couple, who has two little girls, made it a point to keep business hours from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, so they wouldn’t miss out on family time.
Briand, who works to support her 6-year-old son, says that the current hours reflect the restaurant’s community values.
“It’s always difficult trying to find that balance between my husband’s full-time job, my full-time job, my son, school… it’s a lot of things to bounce around on. We definitely want to bring about a business where families can work and make a living, but still have that time for their family,” Briand said.
Although Buena Onda now takes part in West King’s bustling small business community, they are aiming for a gradual build-up as they find their footing and maintain that balance.
“In the food industry, everything changes when you have a family because most of the business is nights, weekends and holidays,” Tarmey said. “We’re hoping to hire some more staff soon to come in on Sundays– we realize it’s kind of a weird day for a café to be closed.”
As for its atmosphere, the restaurant features a wraparound bar and has kept all of the furniture from its previous owners. Behind the counter, the staff whip up beverages with ingredients ranging from wild mushrooms to roses. The venture’s buzz in its first month has broken barriers, attracting vegan, vegetarian, and meat-eaters alike.
Tarmey, Buena Onda’s co-founder, prepares a drink behind the counter. // Photo: Elysse DaVega
“You don’t have to be a vegetarian or a vegan to come eat in a place like this. That’s a misconception we want to change– the concept of bland, boring vegetarian and vegan food,” Tarmey said.
Among the most popular items on the menu are the breakfast tacos, which are available with egg or the vegan tofu scramble option, and the vegan empanadas full of sweet potato and Beyond Burger.
Two examples of Buena Onda’s grab-and-go specialties: cream cheese fig empanadas and a sweet Olipop orange tonic. / Photo: Elysse DaVega
With a fresh, modern take on healthy cuisine and a short walking distance from campus, Buena Onda has taken no time in making waves with Flagler students. Vaishnavi Gundakaram, a 2020 graduate, has earned a spot as one of its first super-fans.
The vegan Flagler graduate runs an Instagram page, @wholesomeplantlife, dedicated to plant-based tips; unsurprisingly, Buena Onda has made various appearances on both her personal and plant-based accounts.
“Buena Onda is so open and beautiful. It’s so nice to have a place that is healthy and has so many incredible, cultural vegan options. I have loved everything I’ve tried there, which is probably half of the menu,” Gundakaram said.
When asked about her favorite menu item, Tarmey cites the adaptogenic mocha latte, featuring a seven-mushroom blend, cinnamon, and raw cacao, as tasting like “the best chocolate milk you’ve ever had.”
Tarmey and Buschiazzo wish to invite the greater St. Augustine area to try not only a different palate, but a different way of thinking about food in general.
“We don’t want to get on a pedestal and tell someone how they should be eating, but we just think plant-based is great for you and it’s great for the environment. This is where both of our hearts lie.”
Address: 224 King St., Saint Augustine
Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday
This article originally appeared in the The Saint Augustine Record.