Nagen Vegan Bakery has a recipe for success

Photograph by Stefania Pifferi

Freshly baked cookies are perfect for parties, and they’re even better when they’re healthy. Nagen Vegan Bakery offers a variety of vegan cookies called “coogens” (more vegan cookie) made without dairy or butter. Although neither co-founder Franko Cardozo nor Carl Veus are vegan, both wanted to create a healthy treat.

“When I eat two regular cookies, I start to feel a little bad,” Cardozo says. “With these cookies, I can eat a little more.”

The two started baking as juniors in a college business program at Lorenzo Walker Technical High School in Naples. The idea came from the sister of one of their original partners when she mentioned the lack of vegan desserts in town. It took them a year — and many tastings — to finalize their first classic chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Vegan Peanut Butter Coogens, Nagen Vegan Bakery, Photo by Stefania Pifferi
Vegan Peanut Butter Coogens

“When you taste our cookies, you won’t be like, ‘Oh my God, this is vegan,’ because it doesn’t taste like a vegan cookie,” says Veus.

Cardozo and Veus use coconut milk and healthy oils to make cookies moist but not greasy. Veus says a customer told them their baked-to-order cookies were even better than her grandmother’s. They are also lighter, with a coogen at only 117 calories.

Young entrepreneurs now focus on the business full time. Along with expanding their line of seven flavors over the holidays with mint fudge and pumpkin spice, they’re also working on new products, including vegan donuts.

Vegan Chocolate Fudge Coogens, Nagen Vegan Bakery, Photo by Stefania Pifferi
Vegan Chocolate Fudge Coogens

Both Cardozo and Veus come from immigrant families, and Veus says his parents considered baking cookies a small thing. “They started to see that, ‘Man, he’s actually pretty invested in it,'” Veus recalled. “My parents have started supporting me more and more and giving me the support I need to keep going.”

Franko Cardozo and Carl Veus of Nagen Vegan Bakery
Franko Cardozo and Carl Veus

Cardozo’s family also helped them. Once, when Cardozo was late baking cookies for a school event, he fell asleep. When he woke up in the morning, he found that his parents had
finish cooking them.

The pair pays forward support by giving back. Having graduated from high school in 2020 during the pandemic, they felt their graduating class received little attention. So they decided to give out cookies to all the graduates in Collier County. With the help of their parents, they spent about two days baking and packaging 7,000 cookies, then teamed up with the YMCA to distribute them.

the duo currently sell their cookies online and at farmers markets. Their next goal is to open a physical store. They encourage high school students interested in running a business to get started and then stick with it. “I think everyone wants to quit at times, but just keep going,” Cardozo says. “Starting young is good, you have a head start.”