Allison van Tilborgh
Valhalla Bakery Joins Dharma Southern Chick'n at Cheney Collective (Formerly Known as Fort Pitt)
Updated: Apr 10
An Orlando Weekly "OPENINGS+CLOSINGS" report provided the Orlando Vegan community with some new insights on the future of Market on South, Dharma Southern Chick'n (formerly Dharma Southern Kitchen, Dharma Fine Vittles and others), and Valhalla Bakery.
"If you've noticed that things don't seem quite the same at Market on South, that's because they're not. Dharma Southern Kitchen (formerly Dixie Dharma) up and left the building, leaving Valhalla Bakery as the only vendor inside the plant-based market. But by the end of the month, Valhalla Bakery will be gone too. All's not lost, however — Valhalla Bakery will become part of the Cheney Collective at 5565 Old Cheney Highway, formerly known as Fort Pitt. Moon River Boutique and Dharma Southern Chick'n, the reincarnation of Dharma Southern Kitchen, will reportedly also be a part of the collective. No word on what will happen with the Market on South building."
REPORTS OF DECREASING QUALITY AT DHARMA
Dharma came under fire last year after ongoing reports of decreasing quality and increasing prices. Dharma (and Valhalla) have been a mainstay of Orlando vegan cuisine for years, operating out of a quaint Milk District shared space called Market on South. Dharma had expanded to locations in Sanford and Tampa, but closed down both locations suddenly in 2022 as complaints culminated in a now iconic Facebook thread of 218 grievances.
The thread began with the following statement:
"I have 100% given up on Dharma Southern Kitchen. Earlier this week I ordered 2 of the hot dogs and they came a hot a mess and missing ingredients. This morning I wanted to treat myself to their Biscuits and Gravy but got barely any mush in a container with none of the sausage. The biscuits looked horrible too. I sent a message via facebook but man, it sucks to see how much the quality has gone down while their prices are SO high."
Other comments flooded in:
"Hate to see a place we used to frequent >2/week go this way. Quality nosedove, quantities cut, and speed........, as well as feeling like an a*shole for politely contacting them about messed up orders or unsent items. We forget and try again every month or so nowadays (live very close by), but it's been at least four visits since I've enjoyed it, and when I add up the food I've tossed vs food that's gone in my belly, the price almost doubles"
"I open it in my car and it’s literally a few chicken pieces with loads of just scrap breading. Everything in the box is cold. Everything. Mac and cheese included. The biscuit was dense, dry, and inedible."
"I gave up on them awhile ago too unfortunately. Especially after taking a bite of the 'biscuits and gravy.' It has hair in it, the biscuits were mush, the gravy did not taste good at all."
THE CAPITAL CAMPAIGN
In the mix of staffing and food issues (recipe changes, quality changes), Dharma announced a capital campaign project in March 2022. Scott Joseph described it this way:
"Dharma Southern Kitchen... has big plans for expansion, and it's looking for investors in a serious, grownup and governmentally regulated way. Dharma has established a page on StartEngine...But Shaun Noonan, Dharma’s founder and CEO, is quick to point out that this isn’t the type of fundraising site that most people are familiar with... That doesn’t mean that Dharma Southern Kitchen is going public – there won’t be an initial public offering (IPO) and it won’t show up on a stock exchange board. But investors can purchase real shares in the company and potentially make money on the investment."
Shaun Noonan, founder of Dharma, told the public:
"The monies will be used to fund the restaurant’s expansion. “We’re looking at putting three more locations within the state of Florida within the next 12 to 16 months,” said Noonan. “Our real goal is we want to be in every metropolitan environment in the lower 48 states within the next five to seven years.”"
The timing was less than optimal. Before long, Dharma Southern Kitchen closed its Sanford and Tampa locations, and then suddenly closed its Market on South location without a public plan to 'investors.' Some felt the whole campaign was a "take the money and run scheme". Others saw it as bad luck.
SUP! DHARMA RE-AWAKENS
After months of silence, Dharma resurfaced online as "Dharma Southern Chick'n" with the following statement:
"SUP! Only a few more weeks till we wrap up the build-out and unveil our new location & menu. Lookin at around April. Stay tuned."
The change in name has left many to speculate that the vegan eatery will focus more on its "DFC" (Dharma Fried Chick'n) than other beloved offerings like the Orange Bird or long-discontinued TLT (Tempeh Lettuce Tomato).
Vegan baked-goods business, Valhalla Bakery, continued to operate in Market on South solo until the announcement was made today that they would move to Cheney Collective (new name for Fort Pitt).
THE FORT PITT CONTROVERSY
This property in question has also been the site of much controversy.
In a Facebook post about the news, a member, Heather Alves, of the Orlando vegan community commented:
"I'm so interested in hearing why V's Diner couldn't permanently move there when they were trying (Cheny/Fort Pitt) but now everyone else can."
The first one to announce their vegan residency at Fort Pitt was the long-awaited, 50-style vegan restaurant V's Diner. V's Diner has been a beloved pop-up and food truck for years and had plans to open their brick-and-mortar expression at the same location.
V's commented on the breaking news with the following statement:
"We love Fort Pitt. Our founder lives around the corner. We did a lot of work to get that started. A lot of working with our neighborhood and trying to make it equitable for all parties. During Covid lockdown the landlord dropped our lease and went with a “more established” brand. That was three years ago. We kept at it and we’re finally opening our own place in a few weeks."
V's Diner will open soon in Casselberry with a menu centered on "approachable American diner classics done vegan." Expect chili mac, animal-style fries, cheesesteak, and the famous V’s burger PLUS a bakery concept that will rock the Orlando vegan food scene! More on that to come...
THE FUTURE OF MARKET ON SOUTH, DHARMA, AND VALHALLA
It's unclear what will come of Market on South, or the new Cheney Collective, for that matter. It's possible that Market on South will never be the same. Someone close to the matter writes:
"that building market on south is in, has been falling a apart as an infrastructure for so long its not surprising they want to leave that place lol. they also outgrew that place. they cant grow even if they wanted to. its an old run down building."
I'm sure I will try Dharma again, and I will definitely expect them to prove themselves to the community.
Orlando veganism is more than glitzy product and name recognition. It's about collective action to extend compassion and live in a more sustainable way. As minority-owned vegan pop-ups and restaurants lead the charge toward a more inclusive vegan future, I am more hopeful than ever about the vegan future of our city.
The question now is... will Dharma adapt and succeed in this new season? I wish them the absolute best—a clean slate is the best kind!
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