Vernatha Montoute watched as the first contestant did Dragon Ball Z’s signature move on one foot, placing both hands around an invisible ball as they balanced. The second bent down to come up even paced, simple yet shy. The third, a small girl, did a bridge pose. It wasn’t a new invention, but she commanded the crowd.
It’s a scene Montoute wants to see more of at Peace of Royalty, her new wellness studio and storefront in Milford. For Montoute—known more commonly as Vee or Vern—it’s a place to forge new memories while also creating a community based in and around health and wellness. The studio now sits at 57 Naugatuck Ave., close to the water.
It is one of very few Black-owned, women-owned businesses in the town.
“I'm representing right now for the many of us who have not been able to create spaces for ourselves,” she said last Sunday, at a grand opening and ribbon cutting. “And others like us and it is such an honor to be one of the first to have a space like this.”
The studio is part of a growing arts community in Milford that Montoute, who hails from Bridgeport, is doing her part to diversify. Nestled on Naugatuck Avenue, it sits just a block away from Walnut Beach, with a sight line that leads to the water. It’s a soothing and quiet place to practice yoga, reiki, and sound bathing.
But through an almost meditative calm, there’s also excitement that hangs in the air. This is the first physical location for the business, which she launched in 2016. For years, Montoute traveled to and from multiple cities around the state to practice her craft and teach yoga. She has also worked for years in mental health and substance use disorder, where she uses mindfulness practices to improve patients’ health.
She believes she is “one of the first to have a space like this in this community,” she said. She encouraged attendees Sunday—particularly Black women who were there—to follow their dreams and take up more space.
“I had the pleasure of knowing her for almost a decade now and I've been with her since the beginning of her journey, and this is just a part of who she is,” said Cristal Hawthorne, a friend and licensed professional counselor in Manchester. “Health and wellness is her thing. And it's been a pleasure to be a part of this journey with her.”
The journey to Peace of Royalty started years ago, when Montoute was in the army and obtained an undergraduate degree in human services. Around the same time, she also received a 200-hour yoga service teacher training from 108 Monkeys, an urban yoga group that has run “Yoga In Our City” and yoga pop-ups as public health practice. Working in mental health and facilitating health and wellness groups, she said, she saw her passion for mindfulness, yoga, and meditation improve the wellbeing of her clients.
She became a certified yoga service teacher with special training in trauma-informed yoga, urban youth yoga, early childhood yoga, and chair yoga. She is also a sound bowl healer, reiki practitioner and a mindfulness coach.
With the help of Elm Village Inc., she has also spent time teaching yoga to children in schools. Yahkeem Howard, executive director of the organization, spoke of the children being enamored by her and listening to her more than him while she commanded the rooms full of mesmerized children.
Inside, the storefront was filled with friends and family and those who have seen Montoute blossom on her journey from the start.
“Everyone who showed up for me, everyone within this space contributed to Peace of Royalty becoming what it is, and I am beyond grateful for each and every one of them,” she said.
Her words echoed in the space: people had come from around the state to cheer on their friend. Coming from New Haven, Lexi George said she has known Montoute for about four years, and is proud of the progress she has made. In that time, she has seen her grow from a very small business to a brick-and-mortar storefront.
“She's been a vital part of the community and it's really wonderful to see her actually having her own space where she can focus solely on her business,” George said. “I hope that it only gets better and bigger for her from here.”
Fellow creative, writer and author Moon Bey said she knows Montoute from mutual acquaintances and was in awe of the storefront when she pulled up to the grand opening. She stressed the importance of a Black-owned, woman-owned business “on one of the nicest streets I've seen in the major New Haven area and Milford.”
“She's standing next to businesses that have probably been here forever and I'm sure she's going to be here just as long,” Bey said.
Montoute’s mother, Agatha Victor, raised a glass and gave a speech about the steadfastness of her daughter. As she spoke, her daughter smiled and basked in the support of the moment.
“She just walks in the room, and she just lights it. Everybody just gravitates towards her personality,” said Victor. “She’s just a good person.”
Simon McDonald, the director of membership and marketing for Milford’s Chamber of Commerce, was also in attendance to see the new business start. He and Milford State Sen. James Maroney were each by Montoute’s side as she cut the blue ribbon, beaming from ear to ear.
“This is just another fantastic business that fits in very well down here,” said McDonald. “And the fact that it's a holistic business … It's kind of turned into a holistic area.”
McDonald hopes that the business’ Black-owned, woman-owned footprint will bring new customers to Milford as the town works to expand its diversity, he said.
“It's very rare that people get to you do something that really comes from the heart,” Montoute said. “I’m feeling proud to be where I am. It's been a journey, and I'm looking forward to how we continue to grow.”
Peace of Royalty is open at 57 Naugatuck Ave. in Milford Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. It is closed Sunday and Monday. For more information, visit its website.