CHARLESTON (AP) — Jennifer Miller says she didn’t go into business with a set-in-stone idea of how it would evolve.
She prefers to let her customers inform her decisions. And as long as what she is doing is kind and healthy for both people and animals, she is happy.
“We were not dead set on anything. We wanted it to grow to whatever the community wanted,” she said.
Miller’s Mission Savvy first opened in March 2010 as an eco-boutique offering clothing and accessories made from organic and sustainable fabrics by people who were paid fair wages. Miller pledged 5 percent of her profits to animal-friendly causes.
She then partnered with her mother, Sally Miller, and chef Indra Riswanto to begin offering raw, vegan and organic food items and launched a food truck.
The food became so popular and successful that Miller decided to discontinue her boutique and focus on food.
Customers responded, to the point that many days Miller said it’s all she can do to keep up with demand for grab-and-go lunch items such as kale or quinoa salads, freshly made juices and specialized detox blends.
The demand created a dilemma in a good way — Miller needed more space for food preparation. And she realized she could offer customers another way to pursue a healthy lifestyle.
“Once you start to eat like this, your taste buds change and you crave it all the time,” she said. “And realistically, it’s expensive to buy all of it (pre-made).”
So Miller recently expanded to a storefront at 807 Quarrier St., where a commercial kitchen offers chef Riswanto the space he needs to prepare items for the Hale Street cafe and for customers around the state, including private orders and regular deliveries to Fayetteville’s Musical Grounds coffee shop and Huntington’s Wild Ramp food cooperative.
They call the new space the Kitchen & Plant Lab, and it’s also open for classes and workshops that teach customers how to make their own juices and raw, vegan dishes.
“Ultimately, if we are going to be able to expand more, we have to have people who know how to do this,” Miller said. “So we are going to start offering an internship program, too.”
In the lab’s recent inaugural class, students learned how to make four kinds of crackers using flax seeds and blue cornmeal, binding them with gluten- and dairy-free ingredients and then using a dehydrator rather than an oven to dry them to a crispy texture.
Future classes will offer primers on making fruit and vegetable juices, non-dairy cheeses and desserts.
All ingredients are organic, sourced from an extensive network Miller has established.
During the West Virginia growing season, Miller bought produce from a Community Supported Agriculture program that purchased items from three local farms. She finds other organic sources when items are not available locally, saying, “Organic is more important than local.”
As customers have become interested in making their own items, Miller also has begun offering equipment such as higher-end juicers and blenders.
“It’s been really cool to see people turn their lives around,” she said. She believes people seek Mission Savvy because they want a healthy diet, they want to lose weight and they want to eliminate health issues naturally.
“They’re willing to search and search and search and to spend money to do it,” she said.
Interestingly, Miller has seen advocates of the so-called Paleo Diet — decidedly not vegan as it encourages meat consumption — come in for items such as coconut oil and sandwich wraps made with a coconut meat that are called paleo wraps.
She said a local businesswoman popped in one day and purchased a bottle of orangutan juice, a bright orange mixture that contains carrot juice, ginger and turmeric.
“She said it stopped her hot flashes,” and was soon on the phone to her girlfriends to recommend it, Miller said, laughing.
“And they were coming in saying, ‘We need that hot flash juice.’”
Travelers and out-of-towners have discovered Mission Savvy through its website, which offers a pre-order option that Miller encourages Charleston shoppers also to use, as it allows her to plan for demand.
“Saturdays are our big day, because people are traveling through. On Saturdays we have got to be fully stocked,’’ she said.