Caja Caliente’s Monica "Mika" Leon’s new website mikaleon.com brings her culinary journey full circle.
Long before she opened her Coral Gables restaurant, Caja Caliente, with her mother, Leon shared her love of food by writing about it online.
“I started as a blogger before this crazy influencer craze happened,” Leon tells New Times. “It was called Mikabites and was really me going to restaurants and reviewing them."
She then started a food truck in 2016, selling Cuban-inspired tacos. The menu proved so popular that Leon turned its success into a brick and mortar restaurant. Caja Caliente, which opened in 2019, was doing a brisk business when her restaurant — and her health — took a turn for the worse.
On March 13, government coronavirus mandates closed Caja Caliente temporarily. A few days later, Leon learned that she had contracted COVID-19.
After 28 days in self-isolation — and with her restaurant in lockdown — Leon needed an outlet. Her publicist suggested she start r-ecreating her recipes on Instagram.
“Thanks to my publicist’s expertise and contacts, we created a full studio where I could make my dishes,” Leon says. “I realize now that if it wasn’t for COVID, none of this would’ve happened. I had time to step back and be home. That is what gave me time to do this."
Though it gave her time to think, isolation definitely wasn’t easy. “Honestly, during those 28 days I was going nuts, but seeing people’s reactions and how many were following along at home, it made me so happy.”
With her Instagram popularity growing, the next natural step was a website.
“That’s how the website came about. Although it’s been a lot of work, it is incredibly rewarding,” she says. “It’s nice that when people are looking for recipes they have somewhere to go.”
The site now contains 28 recipes, with at least ten being added each month. Leon is also working with a video editor to add cooking tutorials.
“Many of the recipes are items on the menu at Caja,” she says.
Leon likes that the website helps bring her worlds of cooking and writing together.
“This industry is tough and being a minority is tough, so this website is about creating a platform and making people feel comfortable,” she explains. “That’s always been my mission: to create a safety net where we can all come together.”
Treating the website as a living document, Mika plans to add a travel section as well “where visitors will see my favorite restaurants and recipes, especially from New York City, which I’ve been visiting quite a bit lately.”
For the website’s lifestyle section, Mika asked people in their 20s what they wanted to see.
"That’s my demographic. I want the site to teach people about the right tools and cookware to use, so I am incorporating their feedback to develop this section.”
Overall, making the site simple and approachable was key, and Leon says it's an ongoing project.
"Although I’m very excited," she says, "I’m also nervous and hope that everyone reacts well to it.”
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