Back home: Dana Anghel returns from Paris to “reverv” her life and open a healthy restaurant in Bucharest
Dana Anghel became a manager at 24, landed a dream job in Paris, and travelled around the world. In other words, just as she says it, her life has been “a flavorful journey.” But as things started to change, as she started to change and really develop her true self, she realized she needed a “reverv.” So she decided to return to Bucharest and start her own business here: a healthy comfort food restaurant named verv.kitchen.
Dana Anghel was born and raised in Bucharest but left the Romanian capital to continue her studies in France and get her MBA at the leading business school INSEAD. That happened in 2012 when Dana was 26, and things just got better and better for her since then. She got a dream job in Paris, travelled to about 50 countries & territories, and explored and discovered lots of new things, tastes and cultures.
“I am who I am today & I came back to Romania thanks to the French values I now adopted as mine, while keeping my Romanian core and heart,” she told Romania-insider.com.
As her life changed and she accumulated more & various experiences, so did her values and needs. So she decided to “reverve” her life (as she calls it) and focus more on having a healthy lifestyle. Add to that her passion for cooking, and the decision to open a healthy restaurant becomes a rather natural next step.
As for why she decided to start the business back home, she said: “I came back to Bucharest to give back.”
Once the business plan was drafted, the moving back to Bucharest was done, and the perfect location was found, Dana opened verv.kitchen. The healthy comfort food restaurant is located in Bucharest and required an investment of roughly EUR 300,000. Most of the investment was from personal savings, but the support from family & friends helped a lot too.
The 60-seat restaurant has a garden and an indoor area and serves both food and drinks. The menu changes every month, based on the product seasonality, and covers many dishes, including sweets and desserts. Plus, clients can also try the verv.kitchen goodies at home, as delivery is also an option.
And the story is to be continued, as Dana told Romania Insider, with business plans including a few more locations in Bucharest and even a possible expansion outside the capital city, a small shop, and more goodies on the menu.
Discover the full story from the interview below.
To begin with, tell us a bit about yourself. You have visited & discovered many interesting places around the world. What countries/cities have you travelled to, and what was the most exciting experience?
My life has been a flavorful journey.
I was born & raised in Bucharest, and I had the classical start of a child from a regular family: public school next door, a grandmother figure coming to stay with me after school, being force-fed meat because “it is healthy” (I really never liked it, to be honest), being compared with all the other kids (for my family, I had to be the best all the time).
My passion for cooking started during my adolescence, more out of the urgent need to eat something that felt good than out of creativity. After a few “fires in the pan”, I started making recipes that were more creative & fun, and step by step, I discovered that I loved cooking.
During university, I felt that I had something to prove & so I put my other hobbies on hold in order to focus on developing my professional knowledge. I was the first in my class for 3 years in a row just to show my family that I was better than what they said about me; and afterwards, because the projects & classes were super interesting, I took extra evening classes, got some internships & eventually landed a job in management consulting during my 4th year in university.
A big thank you goes to the people who supported me during this time; they may not know it, but my managers & colleagues who saw my potential got me where I am today – I had little self-esteem back then & I usually overcompensated by sleeping an average of 5 hours/night and working or spending time with friends for the other 19 hours of the day – anything that would bring me knowledge.
“The rest is history”, as the saying goes. I became a manager at 24, went to get my MBA at INSEAD at 26, got the dream job in Paris & travelled around the world.
I developed my true self between the ages of 26 & 33. INSEAD re-ignited the fire of creativity in me & the work projects as an internal consultant and afterwards as a director helped me find self-esteem & self-worth. I saw myself through the eyes of cultures in which my nature was appreciated: they liked my kindness while valuing the fact that I was an equitable yet tough manager.
I travelled to only about 50 countries & territories (mostly work-related & spending a few weeks in each place), so I dare say that at some point, I will restart travelling.
The most interesting experience for me was in Paris, the city that I still consider home. I did not want to live in Paris, my plan was to stay in Singapore. But some things in life cannot be controlled by us & it looks like Paris wanted me – and for good reason. The Parisian culture is in many aspects the opposite of the culture in Bucharest. This alone made me develop a more well-rounded personality while opening my eyes to how amazing diversity is for the world. I had an extreme culture shock in Paris (for the more spiritual amongst you, I went through a “dark night of the soul” there). I learned modesty, open-mindedness & self-expression.
I am who I am today & I came back to Romania thanks to the French values I now adopted as mine, while keeping my Romanian core and heart.
You lived and worked in Paris - when did you leave Romania and why? What made you come back?
I left Romania to get my MBA – I wanted a school that was top-10 in the world & I chose the “funky” one. I left in 2012 when I was a little mad at the opportunities Bucharest had to offer me from a professional perspective & I was outright furious at the medical system.
After passing through Fontainebleau & Singapore, I was overqualified for most jobs that were both in my domain & in Romania. I went to Paris.
Travelling around the world opened my mind. And as I became more & more Parisian, I adopted French values. There is 1 point that struck a chord and started a process in me that led to my return to my hometown.
“When you are young, society invests in you. Then you give back. Afterwards society invests in you again.”
I came back to Bucharest to give back.
I can only give back from my heart & I can only offer what I have. I have a lot of knowledge on healthy experiences, including healthy food, sleep, therapy, hormones. My natural response to struggling with unhealthy patterns & habits is to learn.
verv started with a healthy restaurant because I also like cooking.
Why did you choose to bet on a restaurant with vegan food? What motivated you?
verv.kitchen is a healthy comfort food restaurant. Healthy for the people & healthy for the planet. The concept is based on what I feel & hope for the people of the city in which I grew up.
The idea of the place is to offer a safe space in the middle of the city: a peaceful & pleasant environment, safe to bring your true self (really, you can come if your pyjamas if you like), safe to eat & drink at.
Since you asked about veganism, the food & drink part is simple. What is healthy in the context of what Bucharest has to offer (because the environment of our visitors is important)?
- vegan is healthy
Many people eat meat every day in Bucharest. Even for non-vegans & non-vegetarians, eating like this can quickly become unhealthy. An alternative is needed.
The fact that more & more people are becoming vegetarian & vegan these days helps our journey. We are here to offer knowledge & a pleasant atmosphere. We give the recipes to everyone who asks in the hope that this will grow the consumption of healthy food; I will just create new recipes once other restaurants start using the ones we already have.
From an environmental perspective, I will not develop the topic much – if anybody is interested: google “meat & dairy pollution”.
Interestingly, there was an adaptation that we had to make that I initially didn’t expect. The population of vegetarians in Bucharest seems to be much higher than the vegan population. Our brunch has 4 “omelettes”: 2 vegan & 2 vegetarian (free range eggs, separate pan, totally separate from the vegan products – allergies to eggs are serious). Our customers requested vegetarian brunch options, probably because brunch is a time to sit around the table with everyone.
- gluten-free is healthy
So many people in Bucharest eat heavily processed white flour products. While gluten as a protein is not bad, that form of eating is leading to more & more allergies and intolerances. There are amazing recipes that do not focus on white flour.
- zero-added sugar is healthy
I’m a sugar addict. I do not wish that on anyone. I hope for a world in which we do not make our kids addicted to sugar anymore.
What followed after you decided to start on this path? How did you find the perfect place for the restaurant, and what was the investment? How did you cover the costs?
Firstly, I made a business plan. Secondly, I moved back to Bucharest together with my former partner, Cedric. And thirdly, we started searching for the perfect location.
Finding the place was the first adventure. It took about 6 months from when we started searching & until we signed a lease. There were 3 instrumental ingredients in finding the location: Cedric’s help, the right real estate agent, and the support from friends & family.
The investment was the second adventure. The cash inflow needed was roughly EUR 300,000 (this includes covering the operational expenditures like rent, stocks & salaries until we reach breakeven). Most of the investment was from personal savings, with a small cash inflow from a few very dear friends (whom I will repay “when verv.kitchen starts making a profit”).
What is the capacity of the restaurant?
The total capacity is about 90 seats, half in the garden & half inside.
What can we find on the menu, and what is your favourite dish?
The menu developed itself through feedback from customers & creativity of the team. The initial plan & what we have now is very different.
Half of the menu is made of drinks & half is the food. It changes every month based on the seasonality of the products – many of our vegetables are “farm-to-table” organic Romanian produce, and this means adapting the menu every month.
On the drinks menu, we have a mix of: classic healthy drinks (anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, detox; we use ingredients such as chaga, curcuma, ashwagandha, maca), our own healthier cocktails (we develop the recipes inhouse), organic Romanian wine & natural European wine, speciality coffee, seasonal lemonades that we make from scratch & kombucha as a healthy alternative to carbonated drinks, and gluten-free craft beer & Romanian artisanal cider.
The food menu is simpler, designed so that it offers nutrients, a balance of “macros” & complete protein (protein is important in a vegan diet & having 9 out of 9 essential amino acids is crucial):
- on weekends: brunch with vegetarian options (yes, our team will suggest the vegan omelette [laughing])
- our regular daily menu: appetizers, seasonal soups, seasonal salads, specialities (with a few staple dishes & a few rotating ones), and desserts, including gluten-free pancakes.
My favourite dish… Do I have to pick only 1? I would say the gluten-free French pancakes (crepes) because of the way my heart fills with joy when a child who cannot eat gluten hears that “in this place, they can have a crepe”. And because they’re simply yummy (I have a “sweet tooth”).
Is the delivery service also available?
Yes, we’re on 3 delivery platforms: Bolt Food, Glovo & Tazz. The pricing is different for each platform, though, based on the commissions & fees they charge us (I have a Google spreadsheet that calculates them automatically, starting from the same base price).
What are the future plans for verv.kitchen?
Since the concept is designed to offer more than just food, first things first:
- take care of our team. They are the first ones who believe in the idea, who support it & who make it grow
- keep true to our values. We have a dream: making the world a better & more diverse place, together
- grow the tribe that brings change.
From a pure core business perspective, the plan is to first develop the food & drinks business:
- develop the experience we offer through events that are “just a little out of the ordinary” (for example: we recently hosted the first drag brunch in Romania).
- open a few more locations to cover Bucharest
- then maybe expand to a few other cities.
The menu will have new products every month, as it is designed to support sustainability & to use local organic products.
In parallel, we’re working on opening a small shop. We would like to offer our customers the opportunity to take home some of our main ingredients: homemade curry paste, gluten-free spreads, and natural wines.
Afterwards, we will consider developing our other concepts, also centred on healthy lifestyles. We have some ideas & we will adapt depending on how the market will evolve until then. Our plan is to fill the gaps in the market and lead the way toward healthy living.
Do you have any advice for those looking to open a vegetarian/vegan restaurant? Or for those thinking of returning to the country and starting a business here?
Do it. People rarely regret what they’ve done, yet they generally regret not following their dreams & passions.
Before doing it: prepare & ask for advice. While doing it: adapt, cherish your team & listen to your customers. After doing it: share your experience with others.
And only for restaurants: there’s a long “dip” – a period during which you may feel desperate that you’re going bankrupt, then happy that people love it, then desperate again… You’re not developing borderline personality, it’s just the entrepreneurship rollercoaster. Most of us go through it, yet many entrepreneurs don’t like to speak about it.
If you need advice or just want to talk to someone about this: feel free to contact me. Also, I occasionally record series of short videos or reels that I post on my personal social media accounts – they’re about the challenges I go through as an entrepreneur. They may help.
Would you say that the growth of the vegan community in Romania is visible?
Yes. The increased interest in this lifestyle was visible at this year’s VegFest, organized by the amazing people from the Romanian Vegan Association.
I would say more & more people are flexitarian, though: they eat conventionally for one meal, then vegetarian for the next, then vegan, etc. In my opinion, this is a great first step towards a healthier life & a healthier planet.
There are also many vegetarians. They are making a difference for the planet & the overall health of Romanians.
And at the top of the iceberg, there are the vegans, more & more each day as the level of knowledge and the average income increase in our country.
(Photos: courtesy of Dana Anghel)