Hello, I'm Michael Hamwey, and I'd like to share my journey owning Kava Luv with you.
My introduction to Kava and Kratom was far from planned. When I moved to Florida from Massachusetts, I was simply looking for a local bar to hang out with my ex-girlfriend. We stumbled upon a Kava Bar in Naples, unaware of what it offered. Initially, we thought it was a regular bar serving alcohol. However, as we explored this unique community, we were captivated. It wasn't love at first sight, though. At the start, I was a bit hesitant and unsure about this unconventional setting. However, my ex-girlfriend was a frequent visitor, and I found myself accompanying her almost every night. Over time, the people and the sense of belonging drew me in, and it was soon me who couldn't imagine not being there every night.
The transition from a patron to an owner was a journey filled with twists and turns. I found myself spending a significant amount of time at my favorite Kava bar, almost every day for about a year. It was during the grand opening of a new location by the same company that inspiration struck. As I walked through the new venue, I had an epiphany – I wanted to be a part of this movement in a more significant way. Initially, I explored the idea of partnering with an existing bar owner, with the intention of buying out their current partners. Unfortunately, that plan fell through. Fate had other plans for me, and I met Chad Brunette, the sole owner of Kava Luv. We struck a deal, and suddenly, I became the owner of my very own Kava bar.
I realized very quickly there was quite a bit that I didn't understand about the Kava Bar industry, and they have come to shape the way I plan to move forward. I wish I knew how cutthroat the business was before I got into it. I had a warped
perception that the bars help each other out and that we were one community. There are bars that are like that, but Kava is just like any other business. I hadn’t really thought about the creative side of the business. So much of marketing is having a creative eye and I did and do not have that. Thankfully I was able to put together a team of creatives to help me with implement my plans in ways that really bring attention. I really wish I understood how difficult it would be to manage so many different personalities. It is easy to say there is one law in the business and people follow it or they are gone but these are people who rely on the business and on me, so you must approach things differently with every person that is a customer and employee.
Taking over Kava Luv was no walk in the park. The bar was, to put it mildly, underperforming. Some referred to it as the "black sheep" among Kava bars in Naples. Quite a few of my friends and my best friend, Cameron Doane, tried to talk me out of my decision, but I didn't believe it was that bad. When I stepped in, I faced a situation almost akin to starting a new business from scratch, but with the added complexity of an existing operation that I had much to learn about. I started by creating a comprehensive list of areas that needed attention and worked tirelessly to address each one. Slowly but surely, Kava Luv began to transform into the thriving hub of community and creativity it is today.
One of the best moments in my journey as the owner of Kava Luv was the realization that the staff was finally where I wanted them to be. After some initial hurdles, including bad hires and team dynamics issues, we found our groove. Our team, from Kavatenders to managers, had become a family – supportive, understanding, and unwavering. The appointment of our executive manager, Jess Noom, was a significant turning point. Jess's dedication and leadership have been invaluable to the business, enhancing the collaborative spirit that defines Kava Luv.
The Kava and Kratom space is under constant scrutiny, requiring careful consideration of every decision and a broader outlook beyond my bar. It's an industry that demands respect and a commitment to its growth and integrity. One of the most profound lessons I've learned is the importance of relationships. In a business where community is at the forefront, treating customers and employees like family has been paramount. I firmly believe that how you treat people makes all the difference, not only in business but also in life. This lesson has brought me real people who want to work with and for Kava Luv in any capacity with many different skill sets. What sets Kava Luv apart isn’t how dominant we are but how much time we put into making sure everyone who joins our safe space feels just as safe as we do. I am a friend of anyone who needs it.
Now there is one thing I think I could have done differently, I wish I had started earlier. There is so much that I am grateful for having now. My team is great, my customers are phenomenal, I just wish I made my move earlier. My experience growing up in the restaurant industry was far more connected to the Kava industry. I think sometimes when life is showing you a flashing light you need to look for it and act on it. I eventually got there, but I would have been far closer to my goals, and would have built up our community much earlier. I truly believe I owe this community, my staff, and patrons full dedication to the business and industry. I have taken steps to put everything on hold to devote myself to living up to every promise I’ve made.
Kava Luv's journey is far from over; in fact, it's just beginning. The future holds exciting prospects, including the opening of a second location and plans for a third. Our overarching goal is to have six locations by the end of 2024, aiming to establish Kava Luv as a national leader in the Kava and botanical tea industry. I envision becoming the voice that reshapes drinking culture, emphasizing the importance of community, connection, and a genuine commitment to the well-being of our customers and employees alike.
My journey with Kava Luv has been a transformative one. It's a testament to the endless possibilities that come with following one's passion, embracing challenges, and building a community that thrives on kindness and camaraderie. Kava Luv is more than a business. It’s a place where people come together, connect, and create lasting memories, and I couldn't be prouder to keep the Luv alive!