BRATTLEBORO — Starting a business during a global pandemic might seem like a risky venture, but that didn’t deter Nirva Driscoll and Jean-Paul Charles, the sister and brother combo who recently opened Vibez Lounge on Main Street.
“She’s a risktaker,” said Charles, who goes by JP, about his sister. “She’s the mastermind.”
“I was planning a different business pre-pandemic,” said Driscoll, a hookah lounge in Keene, N.H., to be exact. Thus the name, Vibez Lounge. “There’s no way that would have been good during a pandemic.”
Instead, after a little research and a trip to New York City to learn more about poke bowls, a Hawaiian meal, they opened shop in a gas station at the corner of Canal Street and Washington Street.
“We live in New Hampshire,” said Driscoll, preparing a sushi bowl featuring ahi tuna with sweet chili sauce, edamame and cucumber. “But we all decided Vermont needed a poke spot, so here we are.”
Part of what attracted the pair to Brattleboro is its diversity, said Driscoll. What they didn’t plan for was the overwhelming support they have received since opening.
“We really did not expect it to blow up like this, but it did,” she said, requiring a move to a larger space at 61 Main Street. “So, here we are. Business is good.”
Driscoll and Charles share a father. Their father’s sister, Paulette, adopted Nirva when she was 3 years old. Paulette was married to Thomas Driscoll, a long-time Keene resident who died last year.
Nirva Driscoll attended River Valley Community College and Granite State College, where she received a bachelors in health administration. She is currently seeking her MBA at Southern New Hampshire University.
Charles, who spent the last 14 years working in a nursing home on Long Island, said his mother came to the United States in 1988. When he was 9, in 1997, he and his sister moved to the states to be with her.
“I wanted him for the longest time to move up here,” said Driscoll.
“Many years,” said Charles. “It was kind of scary. I never wanted to move, but then she proposed this business idea and it sounded like a good plan so I came up.”
“You’ve got to take the risk,” said Driscoll. “If you don’t, how can you succeed or fail? I said let’s go for it.”
Before she switched business models, Driscoll, who is a cardiopulmonary technician in the Air Force Reserve, was deployed to the Bronx for three months as a respiratory therapist.
“When I came back, I wanted to start a business that was healthy, not what I had planned before going,” she said. “It was easier to keep the name and transfer the business registration to Vermont than starting over. Eventually we might want to change the name, but most people just refer to us as the poke place.”
Charles said social media has been crucial to their success.
There’s a Brattleboro Facebook Group, he said, where people were posting pictures of their poke bowls. Others were posting pictures to Instagram.
“I’d like to say thank you to the Brattleboro Facebook group,” said Charles, adding that he hopes they continue to share pictures of their poke bowls.
Driscoll said some people were disappointed when they moved to Main Street because there’s no nearby parking, but she said they are taking online orders and doing curbside pickup and offering free delivery.
“You can stay at home,” she said. “Don’t worry about parking. We’ll bring it to you.”
And while poke bowls are not Haitian, Driscoll and Charles said they are open to adapting their menu to add some of their favorite Haitian spices.
“The beauty of the poke bowl is you can customize your own bowl,” said Driscoll.
“As the motto says, mix in how much you want and go crazy,” said Charles.