Silvia Lucci and her family live by a simple belief: that we can change the world by the way we eat.
For Silvia, owner of LUHV FOOD, the belief is very personal. An Argentinian immigrant who has been in the Philadelphia area restaurant industry for more than 20 years, she suffered a mild stroke and became sick in 2012. Daniel, her husband and chef, made “healing foods” to aid in her recovery after researching veganism’s health benefits. Today, Silvia credits those “healing foods” for her current good health and shares them through LUHV.
By producing nutritious vegan foods that are good for our bodies and the environment, LUHV has two locations: One in Hatboro, Pa, and a deli in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market. The business also offers online ordering for delivery and pickup and wholesale distribution at Mom’s Organic Market, Whole Foods, and countless markets and food co-ops throughout Greater Philadelphia.
We caught up with Silvia to find out more about LUHV, how she’s managed operations during the pandemic, and her advocacy approaches to her business. Read below to hear more about her experiences as an SBN member and her vision for the future triple bottom line businesses in the region.
What made you want to launch LUHV FOOD, and what inspired you to do so?
Some years ago, I had a mild stroke and became sick. My husband, Daniel, also had health issues, and, at that time, one of our two restaurants went into bankruptcy. We were suffering from both harsh physical and financial times as a family.
A family friend had introduced Daniel to veganism, and he took hold of it using local farming whenever possible and concentrated on the nutritional value of foods. Our family became vegan, and I found in it the “healing powers” of a nutritious plant-based diet. We started to incorporate vegan dishes, like Daniel’s famous black bean burger, on our restaurant menus. Our restaurant customers really loved the vegan additions! They would always ask us about these foods and then buy the food in regular containers.
I also realized a vast need for nutritional vegan foods that also taste good. Customers shouldn’t choose between taste and health, so I decided to package and share these beautiful, tasty foods. As I got better and the demand increased, I decided to open a factory to produce these nutritious meals.
How have you managed operations during the pandemic? Were you able to do any pivots, and if so, how?
LUHV is the extreme pivot. We pivot pivots! At the beginning of the pandemic, we stopped indoor dining and immediately expanded our franchise. We also expanded our wholesale distribution to 50 Whole Foods Market stores, and we concentrated on offering curb pick up and delivery. We now do subscriptions and have a significant online market.
What’s one thing that you’ve learned from your business during this period of change, uprising, and COVID?
On the other side, pivoting is harder than it sounds. You have to let go of all your previous projections, numbers, and dreams, manage your business without a framework, predict without context, and invest in a very unpredictable future. I learned a lot about ourselves and as a company.
At SBN’s Best Practice Forum last fall, you described how you worked with the City of Philadelphia to get a cap on fees charged by third-party delivery services. Can you share more about how that came along and what the outcome was? Also, how should businesses advocate for themselves to local government?
I read an article online that made my blood boil. It stated that UberEats had saved Uber. My husband closed our restaurant for more than two months at the beginning of the pandemic, and we relied on these delivery platforms to stay in business. These platforms were gauging restaurants more than 30% of their sales, which is way bigger than our average profit. It was the the restaurant industry that gave them the billion-dollar growth, not the delivery apps!
I was pretty upset, so I channeled my anger into a 5-page piece that included research and statistics. I needed to tell someone how unfair it was that nobody was protecting the restaurant industry, 25% of Philadelphia’s economy. It was very cathartic.
I knew several people in Philadelphia’s Commerce department and started sending it to them to sound the alarm that if we did not jump ahead, this would have an even more significant impact than COVID. My information came when the awareness of this issue started, so I was asked to send it up the ladder. The department organized meetings with many restaurant owners in the Philadelphia area. The next thing I knew, I saw the article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the City pushing for the cap on third-party delivery fees. It made me cry. My restaurant was not benefited by it because it is in Bucks County, but I knew it would help many Philadelphia restaurants.
How long have you been an SBN member, and can you share the benefits of membership? How has SBN helped you in your business?
I’ve been a member for a couple of years, but it feels so much longer! SBN has been very influential to me and my business. As a member, you meet the right people, those that have the opportunity to make real changes or have vital information to share.
My voice and others are always heard and respected. The programs and the information that is shared is always enlightening. I never left one of SBN’s programs where I did not learn anything new.
Can you share an experience that solidified your commitment to triple-bottom-line principles of people, planet, and profit?
Being vegan is way more than not just eating meat; it’s a crucial action you can take to reverse the effects of global warming and your health. As I study the impact of veganism on my health, I found many facts that made sustainability undeniable to the world’s survival. The most significant gift I can give my children is a commitment to make the world better, and I can’t do this without veganism and sustainable practices.
It became real for me how changes in our agriculture practices can make farming more profitable. In my experience, it costs so much less to eat vegetables once you learn to do it right. I truly believe we can change the world by how we eat.
What’s been one of your proudest achievements in owning your business?
I’ve had so many proud moments in my business. After I presented our products to MOM’s Organic Market and Whole Foods Market, we became their vendors. Or when I established the first vegan deli at The Reading Terminal. All of these milestones have been incredible for our business, but I am most proud to see our customers thoroughly enjoy eating a vegan diet through LUHV. I mean it! It is the best feeling after all the sacrifices that it took to make LUHV happen.
What’s your vision for local independent businesses in the Greater Philadelphia region?
Local independent businesses don’t have the time or extra money to comb through and find resources. They are so overwhelmed that they feel that spending time learning or participating will detract them from their business. At the same time, most government agencies and social organizations tend to cater to those that scream the loudest, and they are usually those that have the time and the funds to buy the big megaphone. Local independent businesses are a force to be reckoned with. My vision is for all of us to work together and use our voices to create the change we need to happen.
What inspires you to do the work that you do?
I am old enough to have made plenty of mistakes and learn that what is essential in life is the legacy of our journey for our children, our community, and the world we all share. I want to dedicate the rest of my life to doing the best I can to honor that promise to myself.
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