‘I feel a real pressure to prove that independent businesses are worth staying open’

Vegan entrepreneur Nicoleta Pana talks about the financial trials of maintaining an independent business in the eye of a pandemic-induced storm

Vegan business owner smiles behind the decorated bar of her restaurant
Restaurant owner Nicoleta smiles behind Luna’s decorated bar. (Image credit: Abby Allen)

As an entrepreneur, you can never be afraid to gamble. Nicoleta Pana, part owner of Luna’s Vegan Corner, risked the odds when she launched a vegan restaurant just seven months before the pandemic hit.

Nicoleta, 34, discusses how close she came to not making it through. “We almost shut down because we couldn’t cope with the amount of bills coming in. When we were able to conduct business again, it wasn’t the same and it’s still very slow at the moment.”  

Listen to the story here:

The idea for the restaurant came in 2016 when the family became vegan. It took a year for Nicoleta to find the right place, but Luna’s finally landed on Wellfield Road, Roath seven months before the pandemic.

Three Welsh lockdowns later, Nicoleta and her two partners are still processing the financial hit to their newly formed business, and cut costs wherever they can. “It affects your mental health because you just don’t know what to do, especially when it’s your only source of income,” she confesses.

Now, Nicoleta considers the reality of Luna’s future with hesitance. “​​I’m still cautious because I don’t know when we might have a massive flare up and have to shut down again.” 

However, unlike other independent businesses, Luna’s has pulled through the Covid-19 crisis. “There are so many vegan places that have shut down,” she says with a frown, “they’ve halved – if not less than halved now, which is really sad.” A witness to the declining success of her peers, Nicoleta maintains a steely resolve not to fail. “I feel a real pressure because we need to prove that we are – as an independent vegan business – worth staying open.”

Hollywood silver linings

Despite the trials of lockdown, Nicoleta never forgets to attribute Luna’s survival to her loyal customers, and remains bashful about the attention it attracts. “We have quite a few celebrity appearances,” she admits with a blush. “Teresa Palmer’s children love our arancini – they know the place not as Luna’s Vegan Corner but the arancini place!”

Never forgetting the loyalty of her regular customers, she quickly adds, “We have some really good customers but of course our regulars are just as amazing as our A-list celebrities.”

Hesitant but hopeful

Looking retrospectively, Nicoleta thanks the one good thing coming out of the pandemic: her time to think. “As an entrepreneur at the beginning, you don’t have time to do anything,” she smiles, “so this has given us a chance to step back and really focus on what we want to do, where we want to be.”

The one good thing coming out of the pandemic: time to think

Hesitant but hopeful in the restaurant’s plans to release a vegan cookbook, Nicoleta also aims to launch a personal podcast. “It will be about veganism, but also the financial elements of the business,” she says, before breaking off to recite tips on podcasting for anyone starting out.   

Nicoleta is resolute in her future vision for Luna’s Vegan Corner. She says, “It was a little bit touch and go for a while. But, as time progresses, I really think we’re going to do just fine.”

Nicoleta’s pandemic survival kit:
  • Avoiding any non-essential debt: “Because we didn’t take out any loans, we didn’t have anything to pay apart from our rent which was our major cost.”
  • Having business partners as full time employers and employees: “Our wages came down to how much we could pay ourselves and we paid ourselves the minimum so we could afford our bills.”
  • Always updating customers: “Social media helped a lot with keeping people updated all the time because every single day something changed.”
  • Rolling with the changes: “The hours changed as the rules changed and when takeaway became our only option, we had to change our menu to introduce more ‘delivery friendly’ food items like burgers and vegan monkfish.”
  • Budget, budget, and budget again: “We had to budget everything, it really was just a case of not spending anything!”