Freshly baked cookies are perfect for the holidays, and they’re even better when they’re healthy. Nagen Vegan Bakery offers a variety of vegan cookies called “coogens” (cookie plus vegan) made without any dairy or butter. While neither cofounder Franko Cardozo nor Carl Veus is vegan, both were interested in creating a healthy treat.
“When I eat two regular cookies, I start feeling kind of bad,” says Cardozo. “With these cookies, I can eat quite a bit more.”
The two started the bakery 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 recipe for a classic chocolate chip cookie.
“When you taste our cookies, you won’t be like, ‘Oh my gosh, 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 the cookies moist but not greasy. Veus says one customer told them their baked-to-order cookies were even better than her grandmother’s. They’re also lighter, with a coogen coming in at just 117 calories.
The young entrepreneurs now focus on the business full-time. Besides expanding their lineup of seven flavors over the holidays with fudge mint and pumpkin spice, they’re also working on new products, including vegan doughnuts.
Both Cardozo and Veus come from immigrant families, and Veus says his parents viewed baking cookies as a small thing. “They started seeing that, ‘Man, he’s actually pretty invested in this,’” Veus recalls. “My parents started supporting me more and more and giving me the support that I need to keep going.”
Cardozo’s family has also helped them. Once, when Cardozo was up late baking cookies for a school event, he fell asleep. When he woke up in the morning, he found that his folks had
finished baking them.
The pair pay the support forward by giving back. Finishing high school in 2020 during the pandemic, they felt their graduating class was given little attention. So, they decided to give cookies to every graduate in Collier County. With their parents’ help, they spent about two days baking and packaging 7,000 cookies, then partnered with the YMCA to distribute them.
The duo currently sell their cookies online and at farmers markets. Their next goal is to open a brick-and-mortar shop. They encourage high school students interested in running a business to begin, and then to persevere. “I think everybody wants to quit at certain times, but just keep going,” says Cardozo. “Starting young—that’s good, you get a head start.”