We figure that most people, like us, aren't really sure what is involved with starting a mobile business from scratch. So we're keeping a blog of our progress, highlighting our successes (and mistakes). Hopefully it provides some humorous reading material if nothing else. Keep track of us at http://www.Piratecoffeecolumbus.wordpress.com
or just read out first blog entry below. : )
The origin of anything is always the most interesting part to me. The process, the effort that goes into a project, a program, a product…I’m usually far more intrigued by the journey than the end result. Assuming I’m not the only one who feels this way, I thought it would be interesting, informative and maybe, hopefully fun to keep a log of the work that goes into building something (in this case, a mobile coffee service) from nothing (literally…nothing). Heading out on this journey, there is one piece of information that is probably helpful for you to keep in mind.
I have no idea what I am doing.
What do I know about serving coffee? Nothing, would be the answer. Sure I’ve been making coffee for myself since I was a teenager, and it is probably the most steadfast ritual I have in my day. Wake up- coffee. Pretty simple. I can grind beans, and know how to brew with a press. That said, I’ve never worked as a barista, never served coffee to large groups of people, and coming into this, didn’t have any idea what the difference is between french roast and dark roast. Okay that’s a lie. I still don’t know the difference.
So how did this even come to be something I thought I could pull off?
Let’s backtrack a few weeks to the Columbus Arts Festival. Several local art groups converged under one “Big Local Art Tent” for three days, and got to know each other pretty well. From the start, coffee runs became a regular part of the weekend, with Stephanie with the Ohio Art League txting in the morning to get everyone’s order, or Sarah from Franklinton Arts District doing runs back and forth to Cafe Brioso, carting 4 cups at a time in the basket of her bicycle. We’re artists, so we’re used to “making it work”, but why wasn’t there coffee on site? Come to think of it, why isn’t there coffee available at most events? The food truck culture is growing and flourishing at an impressive rate, but mobile coffee seems nonexistent.
I can’t really remember how the conversation turned in the direction of my opening up a mobile coffee service, but it did, and before I knew it, it had a name (thank you Beth Dekker!) and a pretty simplistic business model. Keep it simple- set up under a 10×10′ canopy, use locally roasted beans (one type only), brew on site in a french press, have ice available for a cold version, offer one size and one price. Seems so easy, why hasn’t someone else thought of this?
Well, they probably have, and then they probably sat down to do an inventory list, got estimates for supplies and equipment, researched permits and licensing and got an idea of just how not-so-simple it really is. In my favor, I’m not wanting to use a truck or even a cart, so my upfront financial investment is far less than it could be, but hey, I just wanted to serve coffee, why is this all becoming so complicated? It’s not like I’m cooking meat, or working with something that could spoil and/or become contaminated, right? It turns out that just doesn’t matter to the powers that be.
My first stop was the State of Ohio Health Department website, where I learned that yes, as a mobile coffee service I am still subject to all the same rules and regulations of any food service. There are so many different forms that it becomes really confusing to someone who’s never done this before. It an attempt not to become overwhelmed and turned off by all the red tape, I paid a visit to Jim Ellison, Executive Director of Food Fort, and well known to mobile food owners (and everyone else) throughout Columbus. Jim steered me in the right direction, gave me lots of advice on practical, affordable ways to meet the Health Dept.’s regulations, and most importantly renewed the confidence I had previously had in my ability to actually do this (and do it well).
Next on my list was forming a partnership with a local roaster. I really wanted to find someone who was like me…passionate about what they do, but small enough to be excited about working with someone new; someone who wouldn’t just consider me another coffee vendor. I emailed a few places, and then came upon an older article on Columbus Underground featuring Chris Bishop’s Backroom Coffee Roasters. Chris was an entrepreneur (like me!) who already owned a chain of bicycles stores in Columbus when he made the move to relocate his coffee roasting operation from his kitchen in Lewis Center down to the backroom of his bike shop on Lane Avenue. He imports beans from all over the world and roasts them just a day or two before delivering them (by bicycle) to his clients. He’s super passionate about what he does, and if I hadn’t already been sold just upon meeting him and seeing his roasting room, then the cup of coffee I had the following morning sealed the deal. Regardless of where/when we first setup, we will be serving Biker Blend. Finally! A decision on something! Progress!
So where am I now? Still knee deep in organizing and pricing supplies. Yesterday I visited Gordon Food Service (GFS) in Dublin and was blown away. How did I not know this place existed until now? They are friendly and so helpful and I’m over the moon happy that it looks like I’ll be able to get 99% of the supplies I need right in one location. I am filing permits for some upcoming events. As a result of using a tent in lieu of a cart or truck, I am considered a teardown concession, which requires filing a permit for each and every event. It also means paying a new fee every time. Another reason that maybe someone who looked into this concept previously, decided against moving forward with it.
But I am nothing if not a hardhead, and hearing that something is challenging, difficult and maybe impossible to pull off only makes me want to do it that much more.
Here’s hoping I’ll be helping to keep you caffeinated one day soon. : )