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8-foot long cherrywood cart by Van San
Starting Up an Espresso Cart or Kiosk (Continued)

How a retailer may go about obtaining equipment for the cart varies. Some cart companies manufacture their own machines and supply them as part of a package, while others offer a whole set of a particular brand. Still others provide a choice from a list of machines. There is almost always an option to get the basic cart and buy the machinery elsewhere.

The basics usually included with the cart is a refrigerator, hand wash sink and storage bins. The rest of the equipment needed depends on what kinds of beverages or food the cart will carry. An espresso business will obviously need a good espresso machine. Evensizer recommends a 2-group fully automatic espresso machine with 2 steam wands, which can make four drinks at a time.

“You need an espresso machine that is really heavy duty, and with a good service warranty on it, so when it’s down you can get someone to come fix it quickly,” she advises. “Some people will tell me they bought a great used espresso machine-then I ask them ‘who’s going to fix it when its breaks down?’ ”

An 110-volt grinder is also essential. Anyone who has smelled the aroma of freshly ground coffee knows this is a big selling point. Some owners purchase two-one for regular and one for decaffeinated. A blender is needed to whip up smoothies, granitas and frozen coffee drinks. A coffee brewer may be necessary. A cash register sometimes comes with the cart or may have to be purchased seperately. Other extras include cup dispensers, refrigerated display cases for sandwiches, and soap dispensers and towel holders for the sink.

Electricity and water supply are needed to run these machines. A standard size cart needs 220 volt, 50 amp service to run its equipment, while 110 volts are sufficent to run a very small operation, like mini service carts at hotels.

If the cart has access to city water, a water hook up and a water softening system is needed. Otherwise, electric water pumps and water tanks are used to store and supply the machines and sinks. Waste tanks, and overflow vents are among other plumbing purchased with a cart.

Of course, how the coffee tastes should be one of the primary concerns of any specialty coffee operation, in order to keep customers coming back for more of what they enjoy. Some manufacturers will train baristas on how to use the equipment and how to make and serve drinks properly.

As for the brand of coffee, they may recommend certain roasters, or they may provide a particular coffee as part of a start-up supply package. Manufacturers often pair the potential cart owner with one of a list of recommended roasters. This choice possibly provides the greatest benefit: in turn for promotion of their coffee, the roaster will often supply the cart with signage and other brand marking, and commonly will even pay for brewing equipment or supply the business with free or discounted beans.

Top left: Burgess Enterprises made some of the first espresso carts in the US. Bottom Left: A Carriage Works cart in an office complex in Hong Kong generates $350,000 per year. Right: A cart from Michaelo Espresso run outdoors.
Espresso carts were originally a phenomenon of Seattle, as far back as the mid-1980s. “Now the market in Seattle is saturated, and we are seeing popularity diversify into the rest of the country,” says LaPoint. Other companies are also noticing the trend of cart purchasers moving from the west coast of the U.S. to the east, and from the north to the south. Several businesses notice increasing interest from as far as Asia.

“Asians seem to follow Americans. Our customers in Japan want their carts all wood and with carriage wheels-they like John Wayne. [Espresso beverages] are finally becoming popular over there-Starbucks led the way into the international markets. Also, right now a lot of Americans are working overseas, and they still want their espresso drinks, ”observes Evensizer.

Another trend Burgess notices is that more and more established shops and roasters expand their chains with carts rather than more storefront operations. “For a bigger player it is a good concept-they can keep capital down and if they make a mistake, they don’t have to eat it. The numbers work because there is a low expenditure,” he comments.

Carts that sell smoothies as their main product are becoming very popular as part of the current interest in health, says Bezhuly. Hot soup smoothies for cold weather is one new idea that may be taking off, he adds.

Manufacturers also observe that kiosk operations are becoming more popular than carts. Burgess says this is basically because a kiosk is a bigger money-maker.

“A kiosk allows you to set up a more full-service operation, allowing you to merchandize more-pastries, smoothies or other items. It’s a look, a feel, and setting up an operation where you can do more things. A cart is limited...and you have to do so much to get by the health department.”

Free standing espresso drive-thrus businesses are also blooming around the country. A much larger expense-and a permanant structure that is subject to electrical, plumbing and mechanical codes, among other concerns-they also generate the most revenue, and can still be picked up and moved elsewhere by vehicle if a location doesn’t work out.

So will the national and increasingly international espresso cart and kiosk business continue to thrive, or will its novelty soon wear off? This is obviously a new business, and any new business subject to the danger of volatile consumer interest. But manufacturers say they have seen a steady increase in sales in the years that they have been selling carts, and expect the same for years to come. Says Moore, “With the booming economy that is absolutely going upwards and getting more so, I see this as a long term trend, not a short term fad.”

Tea & Coffee - November/December 2000

Theta Ridge Coffee

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