The growing trend of street vending throughout cities and towns makes it attractive to cafe entrepreneurs to consider starting a mobile cafe business — just as it did yesterday. Giving the coffee-to-go experience new relevance, Central Ohio has seen a surge of mobile vendors displacing caffeine.
Local coffee trucks are among New Orleans’s newest dining trends, including Brigade Coffee, Velvet to Geaux, and French Truck Coffee. Coffee trucks, which were previously beloved of cities like Seattle, LA, and New York, are now officially making their way into our beloved New Orleans with the advent of the coffee truck.
This coffee truck’s mobile espresso bar is 1949 converted Woody American Teardrop Trailer, serving up Stumptown, Intelligentsia, and Verve Coffee, among others. The mobile espresso bar is made up of espresso machines and self-contained water pipework and plumbing system. Essentially, the business of coffee carts is comprised of a mobile cafeteria that is outfitted with an espresso machine and other essential equipment.
The startup costs of a mobile coffee cart business are relatively low–about $16,000–because, unlike a coffee shop, you do not need any physical space in which to operate. The overhead of running a coffee cart or kiosk business is about 1/2 to 1/10th the cost of a standard coffee shop, and the daily revenue can range anywhere from $500-$5,000 a day depending on location and business volume. It is common for a New York coffee shop to spend $15,000 or more on rent, while a rapidly growing coffee startup may spend just a few thousand dollars a month on setting up a cart in a parking lot or plaza.
A coffee cart business is an excellent alternative to opening a brick-and-mortar coffee shop, as you have a lot fewer startup costs, you do not need rent, and best of all, you are mobile and flexible. Midnight Oil of Searcy is a newcomer to the mobile coffee cart scene, and Midnight Oil is no stranger to specialty coffee. Sixty RVs turned into cafeterias are an ideal stopping place to grab a joe as you are walking your pup, and oat milk is not an additional cost. Well, there is now a coffee trailer making its rounds in Starkville, and that is certainly something I had not seen before.
As dedicated as I am to chasing great coffee, I admit the idea of the rapidly growing start-up cafe tearing through the landscape and trading in quaint old-timey trolleys for uniform, hipper-yuppie espresso trucks make me cringe. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Blank Street is not only how the founders are meticulously optimizing their operation, but the vision that Vinay Menda and Issam Freiha have to upgrade the thousands of coffee carts that are already doing business in urban streets. In the last year, the rapidly growing coffee startup has opened 11 such locations across New York, a mixture of zero-emissions roadside carts and micro-stores less than one-quarter of the footprint of an average cafe. The opening of the Onyx Coffee Lab in 2012 in Springdale brought extra attention to Arkansas, and three new independently owned coffee shops opened just in the past few months in Downtown Little Rock.
They opened a second location, in Fort Smith, in May 2015, offering coffees roasted locally by companies such as Onyx Coffee Lab and Elemental Coffee Roasters. Since just about everyone drinks coffee, coffee carts are an awesome entrepreneurial opportunity, whether it is in small towns or big cities. With the right mix of location, quality products (i.e., great cups of coffee), cleanliness, and professionalism, you can have a successful, thriving coffee cart or kiosk business.
You can increase profits by booking large events, offering additional items such as food or tea drinks for an extra charge, or storing coffee and other products that are in high demand to generate interest. For events where you are going to be selling by the cup, look up prices charged by local competitors. If, for instance, you are planning on serving to-go coffee at your first few events, do not immediately invest in china cups.
If you serve espresso drinks only, or only drip coffee, another way to improve your profitability is to sell both, which will help you reach more customers through a wider range of offerings. You do not need an espresso machine if you are serving drip coffee only.
As you begin developing your plans and budget, you will want to consider how you are going to finance your coffee truck business. When starting a mobile coffee business, you will want to put together a marketing plan that helps to create a buzz. If you are planning on operating in multiple cities or counties, you will need to determine exactly where you are going to operate at the beginning of your coffee truck business planning.
Even if you have a professional coffee truck maker build the trucks, make sure you are checking in with the different departments to ensure that your truck or trailer is compliant. Our strongest advice is that you should also review your local health department’s regulations for the jurisdictions where you are planning to operate, BEFORE purchasing a new or used coffee truck. Coffee trucks must comply with health and safety standards and are subject to regular inspections, so be sure to find out what your city and state’s requirements are before getting started.
Coffee trucks and mobile coffee carts are an awesome complement to the general goals of many cities, which are to encourage activity, safety, and commerce at local businesses. The good news is more communities are starting to realize curbside vendors, food trucks, coffee trailers, cafe stands, and coffee kiosks can all become integral parts of their community spaces. Everything from ice cream to fresh oysters to beverages is available at food trucks, and they can provide a chance to impress new and potential customers.