Valencia Local Heroes: Fernando Cantariño Vazques, Vegan Champion Of Jardin Urbano

From urban garden plant shop to one of Valencia’s most loved vegan cafes. Jardin Urbano brings a touch of philosophy to the coffee game. By Daniel Hazelhoff

Surrounded by plants and hand-painted art in what reminds one of grandma’s back garden, Valencia Life sips ethically sourced coffee with Fernando Cantariño Vazquez, owner of Jardin Urbano. 

To say Jardin Urbano is a space of love and tranquillity doesn’t fully do it justice. The water fountain lightly flows over its hand-glazed and painted ceramic basin in the background as groups and couples have conversations over their morning coffee, filling up on vegan cakes. Not a single frown in sight, and dogs wander freely on the terraza cafe. 

It all started in 2012 as a plant store for a florist’s shop he and partner Serena Amato were planning, says Fernando. 

“We then added local products, to create a zero-kilometre style operation. We really tried to keep our carbon footprint to a minimum. When they reconditioned the area, we converted the store into a cafeteria, though remodelling took about eight months,” says Fernando.

“I don’t know if you know this, but Ruzafa is an Arab word for city garden. So we tried to implement all of these connotations into our business. We originally sold useful and practical plants, not just decoratives, but things you could actually use in your day-to-day life.”

Keeping it’s footprint to a minimum

From plant store to a conventional cafeteria. “Then little by little we started implementing vegetarian aspects into our menu. Eventually we evolved into what we are now, a vegan cafe,” says Fernando. 

Jardin Urbano tries to keep its carbon footprint to a minimum. Sourcing its products from Mercat Valencia. The wholesale market where farmers from La Huerta sell, and where many food vendors source their goods.  It’s all a part of their philosophy, sustainable, green, vegan food.

“In general we get our products from El Mercat Valencia. I’m usually there at 3:30 or 4 in the morning, and I meet the farmers there directly. So I’m able to get my produce as fresh as possible,” Fernando explains.

In the beginning their were limitations on resources. “We only had the money for the seeds. But we had space. So we started selling seeds, growing the plants, and selling them from here. As things evolved everything changed. A part of my family in Argentina are vegan, so I’ve always been around veganism. I knew about it, and eventually I became a vegan, and my wife did as well.”

It all kept evolving from there.  

So what about all the art and the decor here?

“It all comes together. Where I’m from, San Telmo, Buenos Aires, there’s a very big vintage culture. That influence comes out here, with our chairs, tables, the water fountain,” he says as he waves his arm towards the calming water feature in the centre of the room.

“We don’t have a very polished style, but I guess that gives us a more human aspect. In terms of our art, every two months we have different artists coming over to display their work, we don’t take a commission or anything, we do ask artists if they’d like to leave us a piece of their work, it’s not obligatory, but at the end of the year we make a collage with all the artists’ work, we sell it off, and donate the money to one cause or another,” he explains. 

Jardin Urbano is more than just a cafe, they put thought into every aspect of their business. The result is a calming, friendly atmosphere.  

Veganism: Business or philosophy?

As one of the best known vegan spots in the city, we had to ask whether their vegan take on things was an act of business, or philosophy. 

“It’s a moral and philosophical issue,” says Fernando. “I used to work in the kitchen, and I was working with animal products, and meat. I was deeply bothered that not only did I have to work with these products, but furthermore that I was contributing and in a way investing within a market that I completely disagree with. So the idea of not being involved in any of that was a large motivating factor for moving towards a vegan model,” says Fernando. 

“That being said, businesswise, it was scary, there was a lot of doubt. We already had a client base, and things were going relatively well. How do you explain to your clients that are used to their daily bocadillo de jamon serrano that now there’s seitan instead of cured meats? So there was a point of trepidation there, a certain doubt and fear of failure. We worked very hard to get the customer base we had, and we had to take a leap of faith into a system we believed in,”  he continues. 

It seems that out of that motivation and doubt, the Jardin Urbano we know of today was born. Through uncertainty came change.

“We had a classic bocadillo with jamon serrano, camembert and caramelised onion, which we are recreating now in a vegan style. We had to remove that and find something that was similar in terms of flavour and texture, now we have one that is a bocadillo de lomo, which is seitan adobado (a marinade or rub) as if it was meat, melted vegan cheese and tomato. The customers really like that one.” Says Fernando.

From house plants to plant-based

As we spoke to him, he explained his beliefs. Fernando believes that the human race has evolved to a point where “it’s no longer necessary to use an animal’s life or byproducts for sustenance or entertainment.” 

“A very weird thing happened here. As a plant shop, we filled the place with pallets. It was like a jungle in here. People would come in, not knowing it was a plant shop, a bar, or what have you, they just enjoyed the atmosphere. Potential customers would come in and comment on how beautiful it was and proceed to ask us what one could get up to in the establishment. It was endearing, and we realised that we had a special space,” says Fernando.

That curious pull seems to be an important factor in Jardin Urbano’s image. Though “nowadays, the pull is, of course, our food, and price range.” Jardin Urbano provides affordable, sustainable, humane meals and experiences. 

Were you worried about business taking a turn for the negative one making the change to a 100% vegan model? 

“Honestly, there was some worry, whether it would work or not, but we had to stick to our beliefs and just go forward with it. The moment we made that change we saw a 25% increase in traffic and engagement. However, that trepidation definitely pushed us to cover all our bases, so we were involved in any and every vegan app out there,” explains Fernando

So what about the Jardin Urbano shop? 

“Well, our opening day was actually the day all businesses had to go dark for confinement, unfortunately. But the store was born out of necessity. While we were sorting out the remodel of the bar, I tried to optimise space to make sure our clients had the best experience possible, so I was left without storage. This little space was available so I took it as quickly as possible,” says Fernando

“So it’s our storage, and to cover costs for rent, we turned it into a shop as well. Our kitchen is also in the shop, so all of our products come from our storage shop kitchen. I can’t sit still, so during the pandemic I decided to build the kitchen in the store, where we have ample space, and it worked out really well. Necessity is the mother of innovation,” he continues. 

He also takes a relaxed approach to an army of digital nomads who use the venue for remote working, wisely.

From plant shop, to cafe, to vegan cafe and shop and delicatessen, the evolution of Jardin Urbano is a modern-day story of passion put to work, and it pays off. From the bohemian vibe and friendly atmosphere, to their assortment of delicious cakes and bocadillos, Jardin Urbano is definitely a spot to while away a sunny afternoon on the huge terrace. 
Jardin Urbano, Carrer de Pere III el Gran, 26, 46005, València, Valencia; Monday to Sunday from 10:00 – 00:30; https://jardinurbano.club; +34 658 54 36 57

If you’d like to learn more about veganism in Valencia check out our recent post.

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