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Treelion Brings Authentic Vegan Jamaican Food to Hollywood

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On the edge of Hollywood in a nondescript building sits a humble Jamaican restaurant. Its modest décor and blowing fans are reminiscent of simpler times in the Caribbean mountain village where its owners grew up sharing meals and traditions with family.

Cousins Akono, whose given name is Howard Taylor, and Jah-V, whose given name is Vernon Creary, opened Treelion Juice Bar & Natural Foods five years ago.

Akono says what makes the food at this vegan restaurant so unique is their reliance on natural, healing ingredients.

“We call it food, but it’s medicine,” Akono says.

Indeed, Akono owns a small farm in Myakka, Florida where he grows medicinal herbs and plants, which he also sells from the back of the restaurant. He says that many people come to him in search of natural remedies for ailments such as diabetes and cancer.

Treelion specializes in authentic Jamaican food such as dumplings, fried plantains, Callaloo, baked tofu, veggie chicken, veggie fish, veggie peppered steak, and even veggie prawns made from arrowroot. They offer a daily soup special such as Ital stew with peas and beans, and they utilize traditional Jamaican seasonings like cayenne, onions, scallions, and yellow ginger.

Treelion shuns white flour and white rice, opting instead for brown or red rice, quinoa, bulger, or a host of other grains. Breakfast porridge is an ever-changing combination of ingredients such as oats, Irish moss, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, corn meal, and plantains.

“I love compliments,” Akono says, laughing. “I love when someone says it’s the best porridge I’ve ever made. I like to feed people. It’s just a part of me. I think I probably got that from my grandmother.”

Akono grew up in a large Jamaican family and says that his grandmother prided herself on feeding her 15 children, as well as cousins, aunts, uncles, and other extended family, every day.

“There was always leftovers, so if neighbor children, a stranger, or anybody came, they could have food,” Akono says.

Akono moved from Above Rocks in Saint Catharine Parish, Jamaica, to New York in 1980, where he completed high school and then joined the Air Force to quench his burning desire to travel.

“When I was young, I read Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver went to a world where there were giants. That book influenced me a lot. Also, Pinocchio and Robinson Crusoe — those three books had a big influence on me.”

After serving in the Philippines, Japan, Guam, and Korea, Akono was honorably discharged from the military and eventually moved to Miami where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Florida International University.

Now 62, with seven children and four grandchildren, Akono devotes his time to making healing herbs and foods.

“I think being vegan is a healthier form of living,” he says. “I think when you eat plant-based food, it changes your DNA and you become a different person.”

Akono’s easygoing personality is likely part of his restaurant's success, and he says he has had customers who couldn’t pay that he has trusted to come back later — and they always have.

“Vegetarian and vegan people, they are a different set of people when you deal with them,” Akono says. “They are calm, they are pleasant, they are kind, they are helpful. I think it’s the food they eat. They don’t get angry. They don’t want to take; they want to give, and that’s why I like being a vegan person.”

Akono says his restaurant draws in all different types of customers, including Jamaican, American, Indian, and Chinese.

“My mother was born in Cuba,” he explains of his lineage and his feeling of connection to the world around him. “My grandmother was born in Haiti. I am a part of the whole Caribbean.”

Treelion Juice Bar & Natural Foods is located at 5705 Hallandale Beach Blvd., Hollywood; hours are Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2  p.m; 954-589-1579; Facebookcatering available.

Wendy Rhodes is a freelance writer and award-winning author.  Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @WendyRhodesFL.

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