In 2013, Vanessa Chinga-Haven gave birth two times over, first to her oldest child and then to a new iteration of the business she’d always wanted.
Homecoming, a coffee shop and flower shop in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, was a spin off of Chinga-Haven’s lifelong dream to own a coffee shop.
For years, the career move had been “more of a pipe dream than anything else,” she explained. But then the stars aligned. She found a business partner who was eager to take on the endeavor and she was able to channel her passion into the detail-oriented drive that was needed to bring a brick-and-mortar business to life.
In the last 3 years, Chinga-Haven has turned her pipe dream into a meeting point for creatives and artists in Brooklyn.
Her roles as a soon-to-be mom, a Latina entrepreneur and a first time business owner of this caliber taught her lessons that any entrepreneur can carry through 2017.
“Growing up there weren’t many opened doors and I had to push myself to try new things regardless of how I felt,” explains Chinga-Haven. “Having people doubt me or write me off only pushed me to work harder. Which in result opened new doors throughout my journey [as an entrepreneur].”
Vivian Nunez: You have molded the best of both worlds with Homecoming, it’s the perfect mix of traditional (brick + mortar) and digital (the online community you foster on Instagram) — what steps have you taken to make sure that you’re catering to both?
Vanessa Chinga-Haven: We’ve, first and foremost, done everything possible to make sure the experience in the store is the best it can be for our customers. This is the driver. We continue to put money back into the shop for all of the things we think we can do better. But it’s important to us to never talk down, or try to sell to our customer. We just put these things in place and hope they resonate with people. Our online presence has always tried to be a continuation of this. We want to have a light hearted, non-serious voice for what we’re doing in the shop. We’ve always believed that if you do great things that you love, people will find it. That has worked for us in both regards.
Nunez: How would you describe your journey as a Latina entrepreneur?
Chinga-Haven: It was definitely very difficult in the beginning. The store was formerly a tattoo shop before we took it over, so there was a lot of work to do to get it functioning to NYC restaurant standards/retail. I dealt with a lot of contractors — plumbers, lawyers you name it. Basically their first reaction after seeing a pregnant, Latin woman questioning their prices and work would be to “please have my boss call them.” In the beginning I didn’t know how to react to this. I was confused and overwhelmed by everything. I wasn’t sure what I was asking them for and there were times I thought maybe they were right I should have my friend Paul or my husband deal with them instead. But, in reality no one could.
This way my project and I had to start owning that I was the “boss” they needed to speak to . So I did. I had to teach myself a few terms here and there to make sure they knew that I knew what I was doing, but then it became fun to tell all of these people that I was the boss. It took me a while to find the right people to work with because I decided not hire anyone who would treat me differently, but at the end I found a good crew of contractors who made it happen.
Nunez: You describe Homecoming as a coffee shop and flower shop. I would go as far as to describe it as a bit of a cultural hub where you really celebrate local artists. What motivated you to give these local artists a platform?
Chinga-Haven: We are very lucky to be in the area we are located, and surrounded by incredible makers/creators from so many different mediums. When we first opened we had “coffee shop + floral shop” as the very loose framework. We started meeting local artists and carrying their work. As we continued to grow in the space, my husband and I just continued to fill up the store with all of the things that we loved. We tossed out the rules of what made sense to the shop and trusted that it would make sense if we believed in it. I think this resonates with people especially now. People are so much more open to the idea of atypical retail. I think it would have been different if this were 10-15 years ago.
Nunez: What was the thought process behind the brand?
Chinga-Haven: My husband does graphic design/art direction so this is also a hugely important thing to him, [after he joined the Homecoming team]. We are definitely aware of what we do and how it’s perceived, but we never let that dictate what direction we move in, or how we approach the shop. We thrive on being atypical. Our brand was built off of being true to our own interests .
Nunez: What are the most important things to keep in mind when starting a brick and mortar business?
Chinga-Haven: Get a good accountant. Someone that will very specifically help guide you in the maze of taxes and regulations. This catches up to you otherwise. Also, that the store is never really complete. 3.5 years later we still have a laundry list of improvements to make and things we’d like to do. Once you get a couple things done, something breaks, or something new comes up. It is its own living and breathing thing.
Nunez: What are some tips in making sure that the brick + mortar brand translates well online?
Chinga-Haven: Up until December 2016 we didn’t even have a full functioning website, which is funny since my husband does web design work. The goal was to make sure we were doing everything in our physical space the best as we possibly could before concentrating on adding a whole new element to our business. We took a slow and steady approach, which is good and bad [because] you definitely don’t want to overthink it. Now that we are at a place we are happy with and that all of the unglamorous behind the scenes details have been ironed out, it’s a lot easier to have a clear vision moving into online. We believe in our presentation, and in our product, so we just do our best to replicate that online, whether it be via social media or through our own site.
Nunez: What has been the hardest challenge of being an entrepreneur?
Chinga-Haven: It’s much more personal than managing someone else’s business. Everything is a reflection of you – the good and the bad. It can build you up or tear you down. You have to not get invested in either end really, and just concentrate on your immediate and ultimate goals.
Nunez: What advice would you give to Latina entrepreneurs?
Chinga-Haven: Be strong and proud. Don’t let others define you or what you can/should do.
Nunez: How have you overcome growing pains in the business?
Chinga-Haven: By never settling, or getting comfortable. We have never stopped moving forward, or refining what we do. It can always be done better and smarter, so we are in constant search of that. We’ve also tried really hard to make things work as smart of possible in all aspects of the business so if things aren’t progressing how we’d like, we have the time and ability to move things around and rethink how we adjust.