Taking slow sips from his iced green tea outside of Kahwa Espresso Bar on Second Street North, Andrew Mort, the 26-year-old kitchen manager at St. Petersburg’s Rollin’ Oats Café, recalled watching Food, Inc. and similar films that fueled his desire to strengthen the health and unity of the Tampa Bay region.
“Once I started watching those movies,” Mort says, “it opened up my mind to the possibilities of what our generation can do, how much of a change we can do within everybody’s lives. So this [Rollin’ Oats Café] is my outlet to do it.”
He spent eight years at the Oats Café, learning the ins and outs, while gaining an unexpected interest in the culinary field. Starting out as one of five café employees, he now oversees a staff of 18.
Rollin’ Oats was Mort's first “real” job out of high school (discounting babysitting and lawn-mowing), and when he started he thought it’d be temporary. He just needed the work to help with college costs.
Since becoming the kitchen manager last summer, he says the health food retailer’s family atmosphere and potential for company growth has shifted his perception.
“It really helped me clear my head and kind of gave me opportunities that I wouldn’t normally have,” Mort explains. “And that kind of created this … this passion of bringing in the community, trying to work together and solidifying our relationship as a business, along with the community itself.”
To ensure that the community stays involved with what’s happening in the kitchen, the Oats Café regularly tests new bread, dessert and salad recipes on customers for feedback. According to Mort, this enables the café to tailor its menu to a variety of diets, including gluten-free. He is also working on updating the Rollin’ Oats bakery in Tampa with gluten-free items and other customized sweets to match St. Pete’s selection.
The café employees, from dishwashers to cashiers, are free to propose and create different recipes. The Oats Café’s former executive chef equipped the kitchen staff with knowledge of culinary musts like presentation, plating and seasoning. In the chef’s absence, Mort says the staff applied those lessons, shaping a café that is uniquely their own.
Using the words “unbelievable” and “bangin’,” Mort describes the New Orleans-style shrimp and grits recipe his Mississippi-born line cook developed. The Key West shrimp used in the entrée, as well as the “Catch of the Day” specials, are delivered fresh daily through Sammy’s Seafood on 46th Avenue North in St. Pete. Mort says the café incorporates local ingredients when it can by reaching out to Bay area businesses.
“My main drive is that I want to better the community around me,” he said. “I want to have a local-based economy that can grow, and really be strong and solidified and less dependent on the bigger corporations.” The store’s remodel and expansion are underway, with plans for St. Pete Yoga to occupy the second floor of the building. An outdoor patio is in the works, with more than 100 seats for café-goers, along with a revitalized menu.
Currently studying part-time at St. Petersburg College, Mort registered as a nursing major but has since changed to business, saying he’s open to the idea of owning a restaurant one day.
“I want people to awaken and see if you change your health style, your dietary needs, your own needs,” Mort says, “you’ll feel a lot better and you’ll live a lot longer.”
Rollin’ Oats St. Petersburg, 2842 Dr. MLK St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-821-6825, rollinoats.com.
Meaghan Habuda is from Cape Coral and attends USF St. Pete. She became interested in journalism during high school and was the news editor of her high school newspaper. Her other interests include nature, exploring Florida, and spending time with her younger sister and best friend, Katie. If journalism doesn’t work out, she’d like to be a park ranger. —Rebecca Bailey