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Success one bite at a time

Vanessa Mills is the young dynamo behind Chomp Vegan Eatery

Vanessa Mills, chef and owner of Chomp
Vegan food that doesn’t suck. That’s the tag line for Chomp Vegan Eatery and it’s spot on.

Not just for hip herbivores, this bistro is a mecca for foodies looking for organic, non-GMO and non-gluten fare. It’s even luring dedicated carnivores, such as Canadian mixed martial arts champion Paul “the Mauler” Lazenby. “Who knew that vegan food doesn’t have to taste like a mouthful of grass and twigs?” says the protein-loading chomp regular, whose go-to dish is the best-selling Chomp sliders.

The hearty white-bean burger meal is also owner Vanessa Mills’ favourite. Entrepreneur, chef, designer and marketer, Vanessa is a modern-day Renaissance woman. The one-time server and bartender exudes an arty vibe. She’s covered in tattoos as vibrant as her personality, with an octopus-cum-human heart undulating across her forearm.

Micro-loan kickstarts small business

A vegetarian for 19 years and vegan for two, 30-year-old Vanessa created the concept for Chomp after she took a business course at B.C.’s Douglas College. She soon learned of a novel initiative on the part of Vancouver City Savings Credit Union. Vancity, with 57 branches and $19.1 billion in assets, offers a microloan program called Be My Own Boss designed to “fill the gap between traditional lending and the availability of venture capital by providing small business loans to new entrepreneurs.” Loans from $5,000 to $35,000 are issued based on the character of the applicant and the strength of the business plan.

“It’s fantastic to see your dream come alive and succeed”

—Vanessa Mills, owner of Chomp Vegan Eatery

Vanessa’s character and business plan did the trick. She got the micro-financing loan she needed to open Chomp and a copacetic partner in Vancity. “They’re so much about giving to the communities they’re involved in,” says Vanessa about Vancity.

Finding a niche

Since opening in early 2012, business has thrived, doubling in the last six months. Word of mouth is spreading. “there’s nothing like us,” says Vanessa — and she’s right. Chomp is the only vegan eatery in the tri-city Vancouver suburbs of Port Moody, Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam that also boasts organic and non-GMO ingredients — increasingly important characteristics for conscious consumers.

“We got in at the right time,” she says.

Vanessa was also savvy about setting up Chomp in Suter Brook Village, a newer high-density condo development in the heart of Port Moody. It’s a growing community with a happening crowd looking for affordable living. The residents want the kind of innovative fare found in trendy neighbourhoods in nearby Vancouver. And they’ve got it. Chomp’s bespectacled and inked staff also fit the bill, as does the décor. Vanessa’s sense of taste is everywhere. Bright pops of turquoise and cherry-red vintage furniture bedeck the eatery. The atmosphere is like a funky living room located in a gallery. Friends tell her, “this space is you.”

The best-selling Chomp sliders

Chomp incorporates three vital aspects of the owner’s life — her love of food, art and music. the menu is offbeat-yummy — vegan poutine is among the offerings. The walls are decorated with the available-for-purchase work of local artists, handicrafts abound and the sound system delivers everything from old-school rock ‘n’ roll to indie music. There’s a fourth, less-apparent component as well: Vanessa’s sense of social responsibility.

A sense of social responsibility

“Before we opened I made a commitment to donate a percentage [of profits] to charities.” she’s also dedicated to environmental stewardship. chomp composts, recycles and uses biodegradable products. “It’s a little bit more of a cost on our end, but it’s worth it to us,” she says.

Vanessa also hosts open-mic music and comedy nights at Chomp, as well as community events such as Work It Girl! nights for women entrepreneurs. “It’s fantastic to see your dream come alive and succeed. When women come together to share their experiences and contacts it’s even more empowering. Saying ‘you did it and I did it’ [gives us all] that little boost.”

This young dynamo can certainly say she did it. Vanessa is now a role model and an example of what a credit union’s microloan can spark. “It’s still surreal to me. I was a little nomadic and didn’t want to stay in one place for too long. now I have this and I love it. I love doing it all.” ◊