ORLANDO, Fla. – Chef Mike Collantes is bullish on Orlando’s food scene.
“Everyone says ‘Orlando food is on the rise,’ well I tell him that ‘No, it’s here.’”
He is a Central Florida native, growing up in Winter Park and Orlando. He got his first taste of culinary work when he was a teenager.
“I always tell people I started at the Sbarro’s School of Pizzerias at 16 at the Fashion Square Mall,” Collantes said.
His real culinary training got started when he went to school at Valencia College. That led to a career that took Collantes all across the country — Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Hawaii, all became stops on his culinary journey. During that time, he worked for celebrity chefs such as Wolfgang Puck, Joel Robuchon and his mentor Jennifer Carrol.
After all that, Collantes decided to return to Central Florida when he and his wife decided to grow their family. When they moved back from Hawaii, Collantes found the area had changed.
“Orlando got cool, I guess while I was gone. It got really cool... the industry, the restaurant scene and everything,” he said.
After his return, Collantes opened up Taglish in November 2019 inside of a Korean supermarket on the edge of Orlando. A few months later, the pandemic hit, creating new challenges for the fledgling restaurant, including a fear from some about visiting businesses run by Asian-Americans.
“I was going to sink or swim. We were going to do anything and everything during that time,” Collantes said. “You know, it’s unfortunate (the coronavirus) did come from China. So there was just a little bit of fear-mongering in the beginning. But I think that we were ahead of when everyone shut down in March (because) we were already feeling the effects (of losing business) in February. So, it really helped us to pivot ourselves before the big hit.”
Since then, the chef has not slowed down. He’s opened two more restaurants — Soseki, a high-end omakase concept in Winter Park, and Perla’s Pizza which sits inside The Thirsty Topher near Ivanhoe Village in Orlando — all part of his growing “Taglish Collective” brand. Perla’s Pizza was actually part of an effort to bring back business to the Thirsty Topher after bars were ordered to shut down a second-time last summer due to the coronavirus.
“(The Thirsty Topher) closed for six months. They needed to bring back people in and it was the only way we could do it, with food. So we opened a pizza place with them. Probably from handshake to first pizza out, less than a month and a half,” Collantes said.
Even with all that under his belt, Collantes is not slowing down.
“We have a couple more restaurants in the works, already. We have about three new restaurants happening later this year. We just opened our test kitchen/media company called 86 Media,” he said. “We’re taking a very untraditional approach to how to grow and it’s working well for us.”
In all this growth and expansion, Collantes has not forgotten about the people who work for him. He is working to provide mental health access to his employees and make sure they have the opportunity to grow in their careers.
“That is the collective. We’re all working towards the same goal. And I always asked these guys, ‘what is your dream scenario? Where are you trying to be? And how do we align what we’re trying to do with what you’re doing?’ And if we’re running in the same path, then we’re going to ultimately meet the same goals,” Collantes said. “And it might not be where you want to be now, but it’s somewhere where we could see it in the future. Why we grew so fast, is because we started having people who just didn’t want to leave, we needed to give them new opportunity.”
On the latest Florida Foodie, Collantes talks about what he is hoping to accomplish inside Orlando’s food scene. He also talks about Filipino American culture and food and how he hopes to bring it to more mainstream attention.
Please follow our Florida Foodie hosts on social media. You can find Candace Campos on Twitter and Facebook. Lisa Bell is also on Facebook and Twitter and you can check out her children’s books, “Norman the Watchful Gnome.”
Florida Foodie is a bi-weekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere.
Find new episodes on Apple podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.