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Store changes its mission to vegan cafe

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After more than two years as an eco-friendly clothing boutique, a downtown Charleston business has made some changes to its business plan.

Mission Savvy owner Jennifer Miller has moved the clothing boutique online and is using the space at her Hale Street location for a vegan food cafe and juice bar.

Miller said there no other restaurants in Charleston specifically for vegans, who don't eat dairy or foods with animal products.

"I don't have any competition here," Miller said with a laugh. "None."

Miller grew up in Charleston. As a vegetarian, she found it difficult to find healthy eating options in the area, she said.

And since moving back to the area three years ago, Miller said she's met many more vegetarians and vegans here.

As for the clothing boutique that Miller opened two and a half years ago, she said the lack of shopping options downtown played into the decision to move the operation online. Also, because the clothing is made from organic materials and eco-friendly, the prices are typically higher than clothing found in shopping malls, she said.

"It was just a really, really tough sale," Miller said. "Online, I have customers that come for very specific designers. That's not a problem. So that's why I decided to keep it online and put in something that was going to make some money."

Before transitioning fully to a cafe, Miller tried selling some vegan items from a refrigerator in the boutique.

"It just did really well," she said. "So we decided to go ahead and ... do the complete transition of this space into a cafe."

That transition involved installing a commercial kitchen.

"There was absolutely no hookups, no beginnings of anything for a commercial kitchen so we basically had to start from scratch," Miller said.

The kitchen cost $25,000, she said.

"We did everything down to a penny," Miller said. "We budgeted [and] we tried to do everything as cheaply as we possibly could. "We handcrafted a lot."

Jennifer's mother, Sally Miller, a nutritional educator; and vegan chef Indra Riswanto also have a role in the new cafe, which opened at the beginning of August.

Sally Miller designs juice cleanses for customers and consults with them as well. In her time as a nutrition educator, Sally Miller said many people suggested she open a restaurant. She always told them she'd help if someone young came along and decided to open one.

"I just felt so lucky that Jennifer came and that Indra came and decided to," she said. "They have the young energy to make it happen."

Riswanto is a native of Indonesia who studied at Living Light International, a culinary institute in Fort Bragg, Calif. He had been making vegetarian cuisine in Indonesia but started with vegan cuisine since moving to the United States eight years ago, he said.

Miller also is using a food truck to sell organic foods at area festivals and events. She recently sold organic food at Culture Fest in Pipestem and Gauley Festival in Summersville. 

While the business model has changed, Miller is still committed to her original goals of running a business that also helped animals. Five percent of Mission Savvy's profits support wildlife conservation efforts and animal rescues around the world.

Part of the reason for opening the business here is to make an impact in a community that isn't necessary exposed to thinking about animal rights issues, she said.

"Obviously [the business] would fit in New York, it would fit in L.A.," Miller said. "But there's already a concentrated market for that kind of thinking. West Virginia is a prime zone between Ohio and other Southern states for livestock shipping....

"I wanted to be in a community where I could start changing the thinking," Miller said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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