Written by Kylie Ross Sibert

Name of Business: CLTRE. vegan joint
Owner (s): Luvenia ‘Luv’ Hankins
Social Media:  cltrevgn.com
Phone Number: 757-401-9981

Street address: 1309 Fordham Drive Suite 106
Virginia Beach VA 23464

CLTRE vegan cafe logo
CLTRE Vegan Exterior Signage

Tell us about your business

We opened in July 2018 at 1309 Fordham Drive, Ste 106 in Virginia Beach, although we used to be in an incubator space across from our current location.

We are 100% plant-based deliciousness! We service the breakfast/lunch crowd, offering gourmet sweet or savory waffles cranked up with delicious toppings, sandwiches & wraps and, of course, your days’ worth of energy with an array of coffees, whole leaf teas & fresh fruit smoothies. Not only do we serve food, but we support local artists and creatives by hosting events that highlight local talent and offering shelf space for handmade artisans.

What made you decide to start your own business?

I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart! My dad was a hustler, so I learned how to turn my talents into viable cash flow early in life. However, when I was a teenager, I had the vision to open a “speakeasy-like” social cafe with regular art, poetry and music. We would cultivate a diverse culture for creatives and those wanting a place to “belong” which was what I yearned for as a youth. As I grew and began traveling, my vision morphed into a love for small, local coffeeshops. The culture in each individual space created nostalgia that I wanted to have in a space of my own. I hadn’t worked in the coffee business, but I owned a catering company for about a year before branching off and re-igniting my passion for a social cafe. Before that, I worked in banking where I learned a lot about money and financial health, ultimately leading me to the comfortable idea of leaving corporate and starting my own thing.

What was your biggest challenge when starting the business?

My biggest challenge was ensuring I had a strong personal financial foundation so that I could work on creating a strong business foundation without stress. I dealt with it by pinching and saving money for the business by cutting corners with bills, to keep things operating so that the business could stay afloat. I don’t have any regrets about how my business came to fruition, but I wish I would’ve planned better for the vision of my business. I knew so many “don’t-so’s” that I didn’t take heed to.

CLTRE Vegan Owner Photo
CLTRE Vegan Pouring Coffee

What is the best part about owning your own business?

The best part about owning my own business is that I get to make family, not just friends or customers! The people enlighten me and keep me accountable for growth, personally and in business. They reassure myself and my team that we’re doing the right thing in building community and to never stop! The biggest change, yet, is my personal growth. I’ve learned to relinquish control to faith and just BE LOVE.

What has been your company’s greatest success?

Our biggest success has been reopening during a pandemic in a newer and bigger location, undercapitalized. We knew this would be a risk but the reward would be even greater. We can now accommodate our customers in an environment that allows social distancing. We also strive to create normalcy, so customers aren’t bombarded with the side effects of COVID-19 restrictions. We do this while still abiding by current mandates and keeping our space safe and clean.

What are some of the challenges you currently face?

We have faced a number of financial challenges, which is a pretty cliche statement considering current circumstances with COVID-19. However, we have triumphed because of our community. We are also applying for any grant opportunities presented, in addition to cutting costs and improvising in other areas of business, if possible. For example, we simplified our menu to reuse same/similar items and cut down on grocery costs. We’ve also resourced a few of our main ingredients and found bulk options, instead.

How do you connect with the community?

We connect with community through art, conversations with customers to get to know them, engaging customer input and feedback to give them vested interest in our business. We have impromptu, informative and open-minded conversations on various topics. We host events that support community creatives, we allow local artists to paint mini-murals on our wall, we will also provide mini paint canvases for customers while they dine with us to help trigger a creative outlet for those who are experiencing any blockages and also just for funsies. Our owner also organizes an event every year called “The Art of Coffee & Tea Expo” where she breaks down the components of a coffeeshop and brings those vendors in to meet their new customers! OMG we have so many ways, but that’s good for now 🙂

CLTRE Vegan Meatballs Photo
CLTRE Vegan Lady Eating at Counter Photo

What are the future goals for the business?

We want to become Hampton Roads go-to plant-based brunch joint! Once we establish ourselves, we’d like to expand into key locations in surrounding areas where we can insert CLTRE and build micro-communities in areas where there is vibrant art culture, a focus on building up local businesses, an awareness to being more health conscious and a need for more social connections! Here are a few of our other goals to build on the general vision of our business. 1) Support local talent through our YouTube Series called “Local Time” where we give local artists a spotlight to showcase their talent and expose them to a larger audience on the local level. 2) Host various community-building events around health and wellness, including yoga, meditation, sound bowl healing, workshops and more. 3) Start a farmer’s market that will give locals access to more unique small businesses and fresh produce along with other locally made products.

What advice would you give to others who are interested in starting their own business?

Oh man, the biggest piece of advice I’d love to give someone interested in starting their own business is to first evaluate their leadership skills because you don’t just need them to lead a team of others, you need them to also lead yourself. You have to be willing to coach yourself by taking feedback and advice from mentors. Be coachable. Focus on your client and customers experience, they’re the real business-owners since you rely on them to keep your business flowing. Lastly, cross your T’s & dot your I’s in all aspects, especially finances. Build those processes and procedures so that they’re replicable in the event you are looking to expand.