ST. PETERSBURG — It is not hard to see why Celine Duvoisin has such a devoted following.
The owner of all-vegan Valhalla Bakery, which debuted in Orlando in 2015 and opened a St. Petersburg location at the end of 2018, is standing behind the counter at Valhalla's space in Baum Ave Market.
She's advising on which whisk to use for frosting when a young woman walks up to the register.
"Oh, it's you!"
She runs over, greets the woman enthusiastically.
They have never met before in person, Duvoisin tells me, but she posted Instagrams frequently from Valhalla's Orlando location. Duvoisin, who is very active on the company's social media accounts, saw she was based in the Tampa Bay area and told her to stop by the new location.
It's this kind of interaction — and seriously tasty vegan baked goods — that helped Duvoisin, 39, develop a loyal following. A Publix bakery manager for 10 years, she got her start at farmers markets in Orlando before opening the bakery inside Orlando's Market on South, a plant-based dining space she shares with Dixie Dharma. (The vegan soul food spot just opened a second location in Tampa Bay, too, at Armature Works.) Twice, Valhalla has been named Best Bakery by readers of Orlando Weekly.
Duvoisin also opened Valkyrie Doughnuts, a spot near the University of Central Florida that sells vegan doughnuts in a signature square shape. And now this location in St. Petersburg, consistently stocked with a large assortment of solid desserts.
There's the Death Bar ($7), a brownie topped with peanut butter filling, candied Oreos and ganache; a Pistachio Rose Cookie Bar ($4.50); Salted Double Chocolate Cookies ($2.50); and Lemon and Rosemary Olive Oil Mini Bundt Cakes ($4).
The way Duvoisin talks about her vegan baked goods is, frankly, refreshing.
She is realistic about the ingredients they contain. She doesn't claim this stuff is "healthy," because, well, there is still loads of sugar and oil involved. Her goal is simply to make treats that taste good and don't contain eggs or dairy.
She says Valhalla often gets requests for gluten-free items, or sugar-free items, or items compatible with the ketogenic diet. Some people demand certain things from them that they probably wouldn't from a nonvegan bakery, she says. She usually tells them to go get something gluten-free from a place that specializes in that kind of food, like Craft Kafe down the street.
"If someone else is doing something in a certain area, don't try to do it too," she says. "That's my rule. Why would I go for gluten free when Craft Kafe already does it really well?"
In the vegan baked good space, Valhalla is one of those standard-bearers, with treats that simply do not taste like other dairy-free, egg-free desserts.
The "buttercream" frosting, for one, is a marvel of texture and flavor. I wrote more about why it tastes so good here.
Duvoisin thinks it's because they don't start with recipes created to be vegan. She starts with regular recipes and tweaks them as little as possible to cut out any dairy and eggs.
In September, about a year after she first opened the St. Pete space, Valhalla is moving into the building occupied for years by Nitally's restaurant, at 25th Street and Central Avenue. They'll share the space with another plant-based food vendor, and bring in local coffee.
St. Petersburg was one of the places Duvoisin visited when thinking about expanding Valhalla Bakery from Orlando, and it was an instant love connection.
She grew up in Vancouver and feels similar vibes here. Mostly, she was craving things like culture, community and proximity to water, things she didn't find much of in landlocked Orlando.
"St. Pete has completely won me over," Duvoisin says.
Contact Michelle Stark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @mstark17.