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 Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama

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Jaredgibson87

  • Total Posts: 14
  • Joined: 9/12/2012
  • Location: Decatur, AL
Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Wed, 09/12/12 11:33 PM (permalink)
I guess first off I should introduce myself; I am a barista at a chain coffee shop (wanna guess which one? :D). I like the job, making drinks, trying new coffees and coffee-brewing techniques, and dealing with most of the people that stop by for a cup of coffee or a latte.
 
I find it quite enjoyable. In fact, I find the job enjoyable enough to consider trying to set up a coffee cart, truck, or trailer within the Downtown Decatur, Alabama area.
 
This city's downtown area has been pretty much dead for years. But recently, though, it's started to pick up. We just finished building a fine arts center, which is associated with a local community college; a good bit of the fine arts classes are taught here, but I think some of the classes are still being taught at the fine arts building on campus. Also, more restaurants are moving downtown, which makes me think other businesses will follow. Hell, we even have a record store that shares a building with a deli-type restaurant. That shop sells coffee, but if I remember correctly, it's a pretty limited coffee menu; I'll admit it's been a while since I've been there (I mainly stop by to see if there's any good deals on good records :D), but I'll check out the menu and prices next time I'm there.
 
With the resurrection of our downtown scene, why wouldnt I want to just open a regular coffee shop?I've driven around downtown, and all the "good" locations are taken already. By good, I mean near the fine arts center. There are a few shops for rent a few blocks away (and one next door to the farmers market, which can draw a decent crowd). But with this new arts center comes a surge of students that might want a quick drink or pick-me-up between art classes. Ideally, there's a sitting area outside with some benches and tables, and I'd like to set up there if the college will allow (and I'd be willing to pay rent or donate some time to campus events or whatever it takes, as long as the rent and/or demands arent unreasonable). Or, alternatively, they've got a massively parking lot for the amount of students that go there, and most of it is not being used with the exception of a few construction machines and the occasional sleepy trucker.
 
Also, I'd like to take my cart to local festivals; there's an annual Native American festival in neighboring Lawrence County as well as a weekend-long festival called the Chicken and Egg festival (yeah, redneck to the max, but still possibly a moneymaker, at least in my mind). Also, there's an arts festival in Huntsville every year and a small Renaissance festival in Florence. I know there's more, but that's all I can think of off the top of my head.
 
I'm confident I can build, with the help of some friends and relatives, a good coffee cart or make a truck or trailer in to a coffee-making machine. But one concern I have is finding a commissary, since that's pretty much a requirement by the Alabama State board of Health document I have printed out that I'm looking at (mobile food vendors, trucks, trailers, and pushcarts) need a commissary to dump waste water, store/deal with food, etc. I know I need to contact the county health department about this, and I will, granted I can get permission from the arts center; I dont really see a point in screwing around with the health department if the place I want to set up wont allow it.
 
Also, I'm not dead set in any form of setup, cart, trailer, kiosk, or otherwise. if I can set up a kiosk / coffee bar with running water and electricity, I'd be all up for that, too.
 
Wow. I just realized I typed a damn novel. I'll stop for now to see if I can get any advice, guidance, criticism (I've got a thick skin. I went through art school; I've been told my work and/or ideas are stupid for years! :D)
 
 
 
<message edited by Jaredgibson87 on Thu, 09/13/12 5:09 PM>
 
#1
    Jaredgibson87

    • Total Posts: 14
    • Joined: 9/12/2012
    • Location: Decatur, AL
    Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Thu, 09/13/12 12:09 AM (permalink)
    also, just wanted to throw in some advertising ideas and ideas on cooperating with other businesses since I'm here at my computer (I swear I'm also doing real work, too. I'm not just fantasizing about coffee! :D)
     
    I was thinking about "happy hour" coffee specials or having a certain type of coffee on sale on a certain day, such as Medium-Brew Monday or something like that. Or twitter advertisements like "I'm selling this brew or pastry at x percent off between 9:00-10:00AM" or "bring your cup back and get free refill before 2pm".
     
    I've been thinking about foods, too. I think prepackaged pastries or sandwiched would be a decent seller for people that dont want to go too far away for a quick snack. Or, that record store / restaurant sells great sandwiches; if they were cooperative, I would have no problem selling them if I could transport them the 2 or 3 blocks to the arts center in a way the health department would allow. Or a discount on a drink if someone brings a receipt showing they bought a record or supported the restaurant in some way that day.
     
    Yeah, I know all of this is all one if those "if everything goes according to plan and the arts center allows and the county health department doesnt overly regulate the food cart / truck business here straight to hell" kind of things. My mind likes to go in to overdrive when I have ideas like this :D
     
    #2
      OurCoffeeTruck

      • Total Posts: 53
      • Joined: 8/29/2012
      • Location: Aberdeen, NC
      Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Thu, 09/13/12 9:08 AM (permalink)
      Hey dude glad to hear there are some other possible coffee builds going on out there.
      One thing real quick(have to get to work), my wife called they HD and they said as long as we aren't PREPARING food, we don't have to deal with them. Department of agricultar is what you have to go through. Also, we've been talking About doing a kiosk for two years. Finally our truck broke down and we saw the proverbial light. Haha. Anyways it has been a lot of nitty gritty details that might overwhelm you if you don't have a serious plan.

      ALSO. Do you subscribe to fresh cup magazine? Last month they had an article entitled "go mobile, make money" it was a good little article. A sister article to that was in the "cafe finance" section And it showed you how to see wether or not the kiosk/truck would be a good investment or not. Definitely read that article.
      Also, no offense, but if you work at the chain that starts with S and rhymes with "Farbucks", you may want to look into a barista school with some respect. Any time I've been through there I notice how everyone there knows how to press the buttons and put the milk under the wand, but have no real understand at all of what they are doing or what is even the correct way to make espresso. Not trying to be meAn. Most coffee shops don't understand either, they just do it the way they were taught. Without understanding the drinks, most make them horribly bad but don't know the difference. Anyways have to run right now, but check out my thread. Ttyl.
       
      #3
        CCinNJ

        • Total Posts: 7745
        • Joined: 7/24/2008
        • Location: Bayonne, NJ
        Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Thu, 09/13/12 9:53 AM (permalink)
        The thing about Barbucks (at least here) is that it kinda jumped the shark years ago as far as people wanting to be seen walking down the street with the cup in their hand...willing to pay the price for it. They still are willing to pay the price to buy a cup and use Barbucks as a library or meet-up/reunion center.

        I know real passionate coffee drinkers who say Barbucks sucks. I know coffee drinkers with IV drips that would never pay for it.

        Mc Donald's is eating Barbucks lunch right now...in that particular coffee market. A big hooray for Mc Donald's as far as I am concerned. Lol

        So identifying a market that makes sense (not just wishful thinking) is very important. Someone who loves coffee of quality...is mobile...and will be willing to pay for it...over and over. Kids will hand over money to hang out...but at certain levels of $ on the street...why not go buy beer? Or for a price of a cup...they could stockpile like 40 packs of ramen noodles. I have kids that age (22 & 21) they would spend my money on anything living it up but with their money...they are as tight as a drum.

        Coffee trucks (old-school nothing fancy) make a killing here serving good fresh coffee. But they are catering to a very large audience of captive workforce folks in a very big urban area.
        <message edited by CCinNJ on Thu, 09/13/12 10:05 AM>
         
        #4
          Jaredgibson87

          • Total Posts: 14
          • Joined: 9/12/2012
          • Location: Decatur, AL
          Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Thu, 09/13/12 11:41 AM (permalink)
          OurCoffeeTruck


          Hey dude glad to hear there are some other possible coffee builds going on out there.
          One thing real quick(have to get to work), my wife called they HD and they said as long as we aren't PREPARING food, we don't have to deal with them. Department of agriculture is what you have to go through.

          My main concern with having a commissary is having a place to dump grey water, have a place to properly clean dishes, and having a space to store milk, milk products, and any other consumable liquids I might have with me. In theory, I know I can properly clean the amount of dishes I'd need (air pots, espresso shot glasses, etc) in a small three compartment sink, but storing them overnight in an outside cart or kiosk might not go over so well with the health department unless I've got a good way of keeping dust, dirt, and bugs off them. An enclosed trailer or truck might be more "sanitary" in that regard.
           
          Storing milk and dumping grey water is what concerns me the most in regards to dealing with regulations. From the bit of info I've managed to find on Alabama's health department website (which seems a bit hard to navigate to me), I need a fridge capable of keeping cold stuff under 40F. That's fine as long as I'm plugged in during the day to some electrical supply, whether it be to generator, battery, or to the electrical supply of the building I'm parked near, but I'm pretty sure, unless I get a fridge with uber awesome insulation, it's going to drift above 40 at night. I guess I could try to estimate how much milk I go through in a single day and attempt to keep that much in fridges and then dump the rest, which is something I'd rather not do; the cheapest good milk around here is Target brand milk at a bit over $3 a gallon (I think $3.09 or $3.19 or something like that). If I had a good battery source or could plug in at night to the Arts Center (again, assuming I can get the required permission and permits, etc), then there may not be a problem.
           
          I'm going to try sending an email to the arts center today or tomorrow and try to find the proper people to get in touch with to ask about such a business venture
           
           
           
          OurCoffeeTruck

          Also, we've been talking About doing a kiosk for two years. Finally our truck broke down and we saw the proverbial light. Haha. Anyways it has been a lot of nitty gritty details that might overwhelm you if you don't have a serious plan.

           
           
          I feel like I'm thinking through this process fairly well. I'm trying to find as much regulations on the state and county building codes, health codes, etc on the respective websites, but eventually I'm going to have to call, email, or go up there to talk to someone. From dealing with health regulations at Starbucks (you guessed right! :D), I know, what the health inspectors look for at our store (temp log sheets, cleaning logs, thermometers in the fridges, separate hand washing sinks and dish washing sinks, proper sanitizer and test strips, dishwashing water temp, handwashing technique, etc)
           
          OurCoffeeTruck

          ALSO. Do you subscribe to fresh cup magazine? Last month they had an article entitled "go mobile, make money" it was a good little article. A sister article to that was in the "cafe finance" section And it showed you how to see wether or not the kiosk/truck would be a good investment or not.

           
          I do not subscribe, but I'll check it out. I'm looking for any bit of info, advice, or research I can find.
           
          OurCoffeeTruck

          Also, no offense, but if you work at the chain that starts with S and rhymes with "Farbucks", you may want to look into a barista school with some respect. Any time I've been through there I notice how everyone there knows how to press the buttons and put the milk under the wand, but have no real understand at all of what they are doing or what is even the correct way to make espresso. Not trying to be meAn. Most coffee shops don't understand either, they just do it the way they were taught. Without understanding the drinks, most make them horribly bad but don't know the difference. Anyways have to run right now, but check out my thread. Ttyl.

          Yeah, the unfortunate thing about the chain is pretty much everything is automated: x pumps of coffee or flavor, y amount of shots from the superautomatic espresso machine, z scoops of over roasted coffee in drip machines or French Press (which is a waaaayyyyy underused method, in my opinion).
           
          The chain, from my experience working there, isnt about making great coffee as it is about selling as many overpriced drinks to as many people  as fast as possible to make the most money possible. I'm in no way anti-capitalism (I want to make more money than I do now selling the same stuff *$ is selling), but when you cater to people that are caffine-addicted and need a fix even for $5 for a large drink that like up out the door every morning, you have to let automation and efficiency come before the art of making great coffee. I understand that'll probably happen to me a bit if this thing gets off the ground.
           
          There's only one adjustable function on our espresso machine, and it's the fineness of the grind. I've learned to tweak it so that the espresso comes out properly (strong, but not bitter), and that helps the drinks taste better, but it's also the only control I have; the beans are ground, tamped, and the water flows through the puck of coffee in to the cup; at the end, the puck is dropped in to a catchment container that fills up at the worst possible time and has to be emptied every time I have a massive line.
           
          but, I do agree that I need "proper" training. I dont have an espresso machine (because I dont want a machine that costs more than my car for personal use), but I do grind my own coffee and use a french press as well as drip coffee machine, a Mr Coffee drip machine, nothing fancy. I mean, I've studied how manual and semi automatic espresso machines work, and I could probably figure it out with a bit of experimenting, but at this point, I havent used anything other than our completely automated espressobot. I will look in to any local barista training programs; I might have to spend a day or two in bham or nashville, but I'm up for it if it'll allow me to be a more profitable, educated barista.
           
          Still, I'm in the whole conception / brainstorming phase. I'm willing to take the risk if I think it can be profitable; it it looks like I'm destined to fail at this, I'll look for other options with the corporate mermaid
           
          Also, thanks for your time to share your thoughts. I really do appreciate it. I was prepared to wake up to a few posts like "What are you thinking? This is a horrible idea!" :D
           
          #5
            CCinNJ

            • Total Posts: 7745
            • Joined: 7/24/2008
            • Location: Bayonne, NJ
            Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Thu, 09/13/12 11:57 AM (permalink)
            To do your own good research (that is important vs reading the research others have done that might have a slant or a bias depending on the source or venue) research the existing coffee trucks in the major metro markets. I already know NYC and know what price points are reasonable and what is considered overpriced (even if it is delicious) and that hits yelp pages like the back of a hand.

            You can't really expect to meet or exceed the price points of places like NYC (venue) Seattle (coffee central) Portland & San Francisco etc.

            It's not a bad idea. It's just that there have been a ton of others that had the same exact idea...before you.
             
            #6
              Jaredgibson87

              • Total Posts: 14
              • Joined: 9/12/2012
              • Location: Decatur, AL
              Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Thu, 09/13/12 12:03 PM (permalink)

              CCinNJ
              I know real passionate coffee drinkers who say Barbucks sucks. I know coffee drinkers with IV drips that would never pay for it.

               
              I'm not a big fan of a lot of their stuff, honestly. Personally, I loathe the whole coffee-based frappichino idea; it's something cold on a hot day, but you can get much more Pepsi or even more beer for the same price (granted the beer might not be high-end snob beer). I'm not a big fan of a lot of their roasted coffee. There's a nearby coffee shop that roasts their own coffee, and I personally would rather pay the extra couple of $ per pound for freshly roasted coffee (seriously, they have a 5-foot section of wall dedicated to their store-roasted coffee, and it blows the socks off anything Starbucks has )

              CCinNJ
              So identifying a market that makes sense (not just wishful thinking) is very important. Someone who loves coffee of quality...is mobile...and will be willing to pay for it...over and over. Kids will hand over money to hang out...but at certain levels of $ on the street...why not go buy beer? Or for a price of a cup...they could stockpile like 40 packs of ramen noodles. I have kids that age (22 & 21) they would spend my money on anything living it up but with their money...they are as tight as a drum.


              Gotta agree with you there. The whole concept I had was a small little kiosk or cart  for college students to grab a quick, reasonably priced cup of coffee or espresso drink and perhaps some pastries or prepackaged sandwiches so they wouldnt have to go off campus to grab a drink and a snack (closest fast food is a 5 minute drive, and the deli / record store is a bit closer, a few blocks, but everything is hand prepared to order, so might not be feasible for a student with a 15 or 30 minute break between classes, especially during lunch or dinner hours).
               
              ***edit***
              I do admit that by putting myself in the confines of the arts center, I am limiting my market greatly, and perhaps a brick and mortar shop or a mobile truck is a much more viable option. There is an empty restaurant just down the street from the arts center, but it might be too big for what I'm wanting; I'm not against running a restaurant that employs a barista or two who can create drinks above the level of what local Starbucks stores offer, but the startup costs would be sooooooo much higher, and with this economy, I'm not sure if I can get a loan for that kind of money. But, at the same time, I could offer gallery space and a place for musicians to perform...... but there's a bar right across the street that's packed every weekend with patrons listening to local bands. And why go get a coffee and hear a band when you can go grab a beer and hear a band? I know which one I'd choose :)

               
               
               
              <message edited by Jaredgibson87 on Thu, 09/13/12 12:19 PM>
               
              #7
                CCinNJ

                • Total Posts: 7745
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                • Location: Bayonne, NJ
                Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Thu, 09/13/12 12:14 PM (permalink)
                A very important thing to consider in this business in the early stages is this can easily be the love of your life...or the girl your Mother warned you about.

                Get to know all about it before you fall in love or picture yourself with long walks on the beach under the stars with a gentle breeze under the moonlight.
                 
                #8
                  Jaredgibson87

                  • Total Posts: 14
                  • Joined: 9/12/2012
                  • Location: Decatur, AL
                  Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Thu, 09/13/12 12:52 PM (permalink)
                  CC, didnt see your post until after I posted my two novel length posts :D
                   
                   
                  CCinNJ


                  To do your own good research (that is important vs reading the research others have done that might have a slant or a bias depending on the source or venue) research the existing coffee trucks in the major metro markets. I already know NYC and know what price points are reasonable and what is considered overpriced (even if it is delicious) and that hits yelp pages like the back of a hand.

                   
                  There's honestly no other food truck in Decatur, at least that I'm aware of, other than an ice cream truck that seems to have sporadic business hours or may not even be operating any more. However, I can compare my coffee prices to the deli / record store and to a small coffee kiosk operating on the main campus of the community college that's operating the arts center (and starbucks price points; I can quote those in my sleep). For regular coffee brewed coffee, Starbucks is decently priced; it;s not so expensive that people wouldnt be willing to buy it unless they dont like the coffee, and the deli /record store sells regular coffee for about half the starbucks price, but I'm concerned about the quality of it; is it just a step up from Maxwell House or Foldiers, or did they just get a banging deal on good wholesale beans? And do the people around here really care about the quality of the coffee enough to want to pay the extra $0.75 or $1 for a cup?

                  CCinNJ

                  You can't really expect to meet or exceed the price points of places like NYC (venue) Seattle (coffee central) Portland & San Francisco etc.

                   
                  Oh, totally agree. This is where the whole market research thing comes in

                  CCinNJ

                  It's not a bad idea. It's just that there have been a ton of others that had the same exact idea...before you.

                   
                  True.
                   
                  Also the lack of mobile food establishments here kinda scares me. but to be honest, there's really not a lot of foot traffic or a significant downtown scene where people walk a lot. and that could quite possibly be my downfall. There's really no good place to set up a mobile coffee or food truck, which is why I've been thinking more along the lines of a small trailer or kiosk at the arts center, but that seems like it could limit my market to just students of the arts center, which might not bring in enough money to justify doing it. I mean, I like the idea, but liking an idea doesnt pay the bills :/
                   
                  #9
                    CCinNJ

                    • Total Posts: 7745
                    • Joined: 7/24/2008
                    • Location: Bayonne, NJ
                    Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Thu, 09/13/12 1:11 PM (permalink)
                    The thing that really works in your favor is the dicipline you are used to as far as waste prevention at a chain that spends plenty of time and money to attempt the lowest levels and reduction of product loss and constant market research

                    You seem quite thoughtful reasonable and with your experience you have instincts that will help you in regards to what works in your area...and I'm sure you've listened to plenty of feedback (pro con & wish) about their preferences.

                    People often poo poo the working experience of those who work at a chain...but there are plenty of things to learn outside the product itself that are so valuable when it comes to a business approach.

                    I know many talented Chefs that don't know a lick about business.
                    <message edited by CCinNJ on Thu, 09/13/12 1:19 PM>
                     
                    #10
                      CCinNJ

                      • Total Posts: 7745
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                      • Location: Bayonne, NJ
                      Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Thu, 09/13/12 3:45 PM (permalink)
                      You'll also have to pull some banging deals on premium product and the best attempt at cost stability. That's hard with a product that can be at the mercy of Mother Nature & unrest in many prime growing areas of the world.

                      As far as baked goods...it will be difficult to frame the best coffee experience in the area (sans any atmosphere...mobile...daily on the street) when the ultimate coffee is partnered with a package product. That can be like a fine wine & Cheez Doodle pairing.
                       
                      #11
                        Jaredgibson87

                        • Total Posts: 14
                        • Joined: 9/12/2012
                        • Location: Decatur, AL
                        Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Thu, 09/13/12 4:49 PM (permalink)
                        CCinNJ


                        You'll also have to pull some banging deals on premium product and the best attempt at cost stability. That's hard with a product that can be at the mercy of Mother Nature & unrest in many prime growing areas of the world.

                         
                        Well, I had lunch at that location today. While the food was great (I had a club sandwich served on toasted bread) and a great iced sweet tea, I cant say that the coffee was up to the same standard. I got a small coffee to go, and it tasted to me to be on the same level as Maxwell House or Foldiers. But get this: they were grinding this coffee and selling it in those sealed bags (the ones with the pressure valve thing. For the life of me, I cant think of the "proper" term for those bags at the moment). If quality of coffee was the only deciding factor in choosing a place for a quick cup of coffee, this would be out from my experience today. But it's got a nice, hipster feel to it ( must be the decorations and the record store it shares the building with :D) and a nice atmosphere and also VERY good food
                         
                        They were busy today, so I guess the bad coffee could have been from sitting in the airpot too long. It kinda had an instant coffee kind of flavor to it, like some of Starbucks' instant coffee does (another product of SB that I'm not a big fan of :/). I mention it might have been in the airpot too long because although the coffee was hot, it wasnt burn your tongue hot like freshly brewed coffee. So I'll try again another day and see if there's a difference. And people seem to love the latte's and espresso drinks from the reviews I've read online, so I'll give one of those a try, as well next time
                         
                        CCinNJ

                        As far as baked goods...it will be difficult to frame the best coffee experience in the area (sans any atmosphere...mobile...daily on the street) when the ultimate coffee is partnered with a package product. That can be like a fine wine & Cheez Doodle pairing.

                         
                        You make a hell of a point there. That's why I posted my coffee cart brainstorm here: so people could steer me away from doing this kind of stuff :)
                         
                         
                         
                        But, you know, the more I have someone else to talk through this with, the more I think I might be better off with a brick and mortar store or scaling back my plan for a mobile coffee service to just fairs and local events. I mean, I think I'm wanting to do too much with too little in the way of space and customer base. I think I might have come to this conclusion later in the planning process (but hopefully before paying for anything), but the more I hash this out with people that will listen, the clearer it is to me this might not make the money I'm wanting, which is, for me, the biggest concern. Yeah, I like the coffee business, but I also like being able to pay bills and not live on the street :)
                         
                        There are a few busy shopping centers (the most busy, with a few more retail spaces left to be rented) is the one containing a Target store as well as a few other clothing stores (Old Navy, Hibbits and I believe a Ross and a shoe store). But also the other side of the shopping center is filled with resturaunts (5 Guys, Wings to Go, Panera, Gigi's cupcakes, an Asian place called Fulin's, and a yogurt bar). With the exception of Panera and Fulin's, the restaurants are fast food with a bit  of seating space for dine in customers; well, I guess 5 Guys is kind of up there with Panera in that it's more of a dine in place. If I could have a good plan to compete with those places, as well as the Starbucks inside the Target, that might be a good brick and mortar store, and maybe later add a trailer to have a presence at the local fair or event.
                         
                         
                        <message edited by Jaredgibson87 on Thu, 09/13/12 5:00 PM>
                         
                        #12
                          CCinNJ

                          • Total Posts: 7745
                          • Joined: 7/24/2008
                          • Location: Bayonne, NJ
                          Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Thu, 09/13/12 5:10 PM (permalink)
                          It's more productive and actually fun to research before you have a commitment to worry about. You usually make better decisions that way too. Decisions that don't include compromise or panic because you gotta go...now!

                          Even fresh products have decision factors when mobile. Croissants are very popular on a nice day that's not full of humidity. When it's humid they get flat tacky and people get PISSED that they bought it (it's rich pastry full of fat & calories) and they don't enjoy it.

                          You have to think of everything about everything and there are unique factors to some food when mobile that would not be a factor (or controlled to a certain extent) when not dealing with certain elements.

                           
                          #13
                            Jaredgibson87

                            • Total Posts: 14
                            • Joined: 9/12/2012
                            • Location: Decatur, AL
                            Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Fri, 09/14/12 5:11 PM (permalink)
                            Just wanted to update and say that any kind of permanent presence at the arts center in Decatur is a no go. Now, I guess I can quit worrying about that and concern myself with with either trying to find the money for a brick and mortar location or give one more possible location a try
                             
                            That other possible location if I wanted to give the small, portable, mobile coffee idea a shot is a local art center called Lowe Mill (you can find it at www.lowemill.net). It's an abandoned warehouse that's been turned in to an art center; lots of artists rent small studios in the warehouse, which is three floors high, and it's basically full now of working artists, some of which have been around for a few years. There's even a record store operating on the site (I'm a big fan of music on vinyl :D).
                             
                            Every saturday, there's an artists market, where local artists and craftspeople can set up in the second floor hallway and sell their wares. It's generally pretty busy when the weather is tolerable.
                             
                            A while back, Happy Tummy sold amazing food and operated out of a trailer in the parking lot. However they've recently moved inside. There's also a baker running a small bakery called Fred Bread. It might be possible for me to set up there working in a food truck or trailer, and I might have a larger customer base than if I attempted to open at the local community college arts center.
                             
                            The reason I havent really considered this location before is because of Happy Tummy and Fred Bread. I'm kinda nervous about competing with them, though they dont serve coffee (at I'm not seeing coffee on Happy Tummy's menu, and I dont think I've got much to fear from a baker...... unless I get in to the bread business :D).
                             
                            I'm trying to get a day off so I can actually talk to someone there in person; electronic communication isnt really my strong point :/. I might have to shoot an email to one of the administrative people at Lowe Mill to set up some kind of meaningful appointment or discussion about the idea. But I'd like to talk to the folks at Happy Tummy in person, if I have a choice.
                             
                            But anyway, gotta run off to work, so I'm out for the day :)
                             
                            #14
                              CCinNJ

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                              Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Fri, 09/14/12 9:51 PM (permalink)
                              Lowe Mill looks like a great place! It's a good idea to talk to Happy Tummy for the 411 on "traffic"

                              It's looks like Friday is concert day (don't know how that runs in the winter) Saturday is the Market. There are art classes throughout the week but they are somewhat short on time and small in size. Need to fill in the blanks from there.

                              Good industry city. Lots of nicknames. Jared.... Please promise me that when you are in business you will carry a granola product that is a play on Meow Mix... since you will be serving an artist venue & Decatur is Home of Meow Mix. We'll help you with an alternate but close enough name to keep you out of trouble with Purina. It will sell...I promise you that.
                              <message edited by CCinNJ on Fri, 09/21/12 9:24 AM>
                               
                              #15
                                CCinNJ

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                                Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Sat, 09/15/12 6:33 PM (permalink)
                                Here a good article to read...just to stay grounded.

                                http://www.slate.com/arti...05/12/bitter_brew.html

                                One of the factors with coffee as the star of the show...low tickets/covers. When you have such low potential ticket averages...you need constant traffic.
                                 
                                #16
                                  Jaredgibson87

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                                  • Location: Decatur, AL
                                  Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Sun, 09/16/12 1:14 AM (permalink)
                                  CC, that was actually one of the first articles I read when looking in to the whole coffee business thing. And I'm not convinced he really knew what he was getting in to when he opened. I'm not saying I'd do any better than him, but it seems to me like the key to a business that wants it's main item to be brewed coffee, especially specialty, higher end coffee needs plenty of traffic (even the venti cups of hot coffee, the large 20 ounce cups, sell for a little over $2 here after tax is included). With prices like that, you need to sell assloads of coffee to make it worth your time to do it.
                                   
                                  Though I havent seen any financial records to back up this statement, I can say that the more expensive drinks like frappichinos and lattes, which can sell for around $5 or more, including tax, make up the bulk of our sales, and I'd assume that's true for pretty much every Starbucks store. With that in mind, I do intend to have an espresso machine on hand to keep up with the esspresso addicts.
                                   
                                  I'm not an espresso fan personally (I have to have mine in a flavored latte for it to even be drinkable), but it seems in my experience that those are the lifeblood of a coffee shop, at least at Starbucks. A locally owned shop, I would assume wouldnt be too much different; food would probably be a bigger seller in those places than in a Starbucks (ours only sales pastries and Starbucks chocolate bars, and stuff like that).
                                   
                                  I'm not quite convinced the author if this article was coffee shop material. I'm not going to be so arrogant to say I'd fare much better, but it seems he and his wife went in to the business before really knowing what they were getting in to. But I do think his thoughts on pastries are spot on; we throw out more muffins and scones than we sell. Luckily we sell enough cafe Mocha's and caramel frappuchino's to make up for it :)
                                   
                                  Now, if I can take what I've learned as a drone for the corporate mermaid and apply it to my own coffee business, I might have a better chance at surviving longer than 6 months :/
                                   
                                  #17
                                    CCinNJ

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                                    Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Sun, 09/16/12 2:50 AM (permalink)
                                    I agree with you...about that article. One thing that was not mentioned (I don't know if they ever realized it) is when you decide to sell a time-sensitive menu item like a croissant...your mind has to know and the plan has to be set in place that the croissant of today might not be able to be extended to sell fresh...but when it's thrown in the trash they should be pushed right behind it. That's pudding for tomorrow. That not only keeps...it keeps getting better for a spell...until the next batch.

                                    That's the difference between small business & chain. They can afford to do it (they should donate it to a food bank) but they can take a loss. As far as selling...Barbucks is set as soon as the ground is broken. Coming soon means people are waiting to line up because they know the drill...and have done it in other locations for a long time...with that or most other established chains. Can't bank on chain volume or anything close...even when you have a superior product. They have grown to be like the Yankees. They have a big brand...they can afford a slump...and they can afford to eat ther mistakes.

                                    With brick & mortar it really helps to secure some established organized events. Book clubs...knitting class...photography demo...oragami meeting ...local financial planner seminar (sign-up)...real estate meet & greets...bridal showcase.

                                    It's very difficult to have all of your eggs invested in natural daily traffic.
                                    <message edited by CCinNJ on Sun, 09/16/12 3:11 AM>
                                     
                                    #18
                                      Jaredgibson87

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                                      • Location: Decatur, AL
                                      Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Sun, 09/16/12 11:04 AM (permalink)
                                      Yeah, I agree with you about the traffic. I do need something to make people want to come to me. If I can get myself set up at Lowe Mill, the advantage would at least some possible customers every day they're open (Wed-Sat), but just because I'm there doesnt mean they'll want to buy something, and I do realize that. And the traffic (in terms of people) can be sporadic; I've been there on days where I feel like I was one of the few people there that wasnt working there, and then there have been days like saturdays during the artist market that I couldnt walk down the halls inside the building because it was so damn crowded
                                       
                                      Still, traffic doesnt really mean crap if I'm selling something nobody will buy. I am working on getting a coffee grinder than can efficiently grind coffee to something other than for my drip machine.; cheap electric burr grinders, at least the ones I've fooled around with can do medium grind decently but get questionable at fine or coarse grind (I guess it's the spacing of the grinding mechanism getting too far apart or too close? or just plain cheap design?)
                                       
                                      For the sake of research, I did a bit of math to determine the actual cost of a cup of coffee. A bag of Latin American coffee from Kaldi.com averages at about $9/pound, including the cost of shipping, with Costa Rican beans being a bit more expensive (closer to $9.50, shipped). I did a bit of rounding off and found that the cost of the coffee alone for an 8oz cup is about $1.60; the cost of a cup (if it's a to-go paper cup) and the cost of water (which should negligible) would raise that a few more pennies at least. It seems like Starbucks is basically selling cups of coffee at cost or a bit more. Though I'm sure their cost of coffee is a good bit cheaper than mine, considering they buy their own beans and roast massive amounts; they could be making more than I'm realizing.But still, the point is, regardless of what Starbucks is making, I'd basically be selling at cost if I charged what my starbucks does for a cup of regular coffee.... Something for me to mull over for a while and figure out ways to make people get something more than just plain coffee :)
                                       
                                      #19
                                        CCinNJ

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                                        Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Sun, 09/16/12 11:16 AM (permalink)
                                        You'd fall out if you saw the price tag of these trucks (for sure) but for the sake of research and knowing how the best of the best are put together so you pick up some very good idea you can consider while thinking about a mobile venture. It's also a few good contacts with tons of information/ experience about equipment...way before builders decided to react to this hot new market and build without much experience. Sometimes they get quality equipment back and they know you like you...some will cut you a big break. Especially if they know you're not lost on the ledge with a money pit emergency of your own...

                                        Custom Mobile here in NJ builds some fantastic coffee trucks of all sorts...and they've been in business for over 50 years. Awesome people.

                                        http://www.customsalesandservice.com/

                                        This shows a bunch about a bunch...

                                        http://www.seattlecoffeet...om/bbrute.asp?status=P

                                        At the end of the day some of the best things they will tell you is what NOT to do...and why not to do it. How much it would cost you if you did it...anyway. What's on the horizon as far as building requirements in this climate of DIY.
                                        <message edited by CCinNJ on Sun, 09/16/12 11:38 AM>
                                         
                                        #20
                                          Jaredgibson87

                                          • Total Posts: 14
                                          • Joined: 9/12/2012
                                          • Location: Decatur, AL
                                          Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Sun, 09/16/12 9:55 PM (permalink)
                                          I've looked in to the cost of purpose-built trailers, trucks, and pushcarts, and they can be pretty steep. I've been poking around with a spreadsheet software trying to figure out how much a project like this would set me back. As of now, just brewing equipment (a coffee grinder, drip machine, French Press, Moka Pot, and espresso machine) as well as NSF certified three-compartment sink and a handwashing sink is going to run me about $3700, with the bulk of that (roughly 2/3) being an espresso machine, and that's the bare minimum of stuff I think I'll need. And this isnt including water storage, hot water heater, and a power source for all of this, which I'm looking to now
                                           
                                          I'm also in the process of drawing the layout of everything on graph paper. Obviously the layout will change as I get farther in to this (or abandon it completely if/when I come to the conclusion that this whole project isnt going to work out :/), and finding storage space for everything I need is proving to be a challenge; it's looking like it's going to be a double-decker project: counter space and limited storage space around water pipes and water storage at bottom and cabinet space at top.
                                           
                                          I was thinking, though, that I could sweet talk the folks at that nice establishment inside Lowe Mill, I might can borrow their 3-compartment sink at closing time. That'll save me about $550. And by "sweet talk," I mean fork over a few $$$ . But, failing that, a three compartment sink might have to be in my future :/.
                                           
                                          And I'll look in to those sites. I'll need all the advice and guidance I can find
                                           
                                          #21
                                            CCinNJ

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                                            Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Sun, 09/16/12 10:56 PM (permalink)
                                            A customized (to coffee) Custom 650 would set you back about 20K...or maybe more. But...people do it because there is a great deal of resale value. They are always in demand and usually sell for asking price...or higher in a bidding battle.

                                            That's one way to invest in a business that will eventually pay for the next step in business. Have business pay for business after a sound initial investment...and a likely chance to get a good deal of that initial investment back...when you decide it's time for the next step. Or...a very low risk if things happens....and you keep something like that in great shape.
                                             
                                            #22
                                              Jaredgibson87

                                              • Total Posts: 14
                                              • Joined: 9/12/2012
                                              • Location: Decatur, AL
                                              Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Fri, 09/21/12 12:07 AM (permalink)
                                              Well, I read over the food regulations again today, and found this nice tidbit of info that I somehow missed the last time (in my defense, health regulations arent the most interesting things to read, and I might have zoned out near the end of the 20+ page document where this is written :D ):
                                               
                                              this is from the section numbered 420-3-22-.10
                                              "Establishments serving only coffee in single-service cups and utilizing single-service stirrers and non-potentially hazardous coffee condiments do not require a permit or inspections."
                                               
                                              it also states that I have to prove to the Health Officer that the food (in this case drinks) I serve complies with Alabama's definition of a food service establishment, which is "any place, vehicle, or vessel where food for individual portion service is prepared, stored, held, transported, served, or dispensed..... regardless of whether consumption is on or off the premises".
                                               
                                              Also, in section 420-3-22-.09 (2) b, there's this:
                                               
                                              "Mobile food units or pushcarts serving.... beverages that are not potentially hazardous and are dispensed from covered dispensers, covered urns, or other protected equipment, need not comply with requirements of these rules pertaining to the necessity of water and waste water systems.... if the required equipment exists at the commissary."
                                               
                                               
                                              ok, so I remembered the second part about water and waste water from the first time I read through the regulations, but the first section I quoted, I totally missed (probably I was zoned out from trying to digest all of this stuff and just missed it.)
                                               
                                              Also, the appendix, the last two pages, summarizes everything for me: My comissary can be either an actual commissary or I can operate out of a permitted food service establishment. Either way, I'll need to fill up any portable water tanks there and dump any wastewater (aka soapy, diluted coffee :D) there.
                                               
                                              I did send off an email to Lowe Mill asking if they'd allow me to operate a portable coffee stand there. If they agree and Happy Tummy agrees to be my commissary, it looks like I might be in business (the lady that runs Happy Tummy is the sweetest old woman in the world, when she's in a good mood, so hopefully I'll catch her on a good day). Really, all I'd need to do, it looks like, is fill up a portable water tank, dump waste water, and clean some coffee pots, so hopefully it wont be too much to ask. If Happy Tummy wont allow it, I might be out of luck :/
                                               
                                               
                                               
                                               
                                              #23
                                                CCinNJ

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                                                Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Fri, 09/21/12 12:33 AM (permalink)
                                                The only coffee product I see on the current specials menu is Mocha Frap @ $2.50. Green Tea no regular coffee? I'd ask why if that's the case when you catch her on the best time possible. That's make or break. Specials menu flips often...and runs 3 days.

                                                But...you're doing a great job in the research Jared. No matter what happens right now...I really think you'll have a place sooner or later.
                                                 
                                                #24
                                                  CCinNJ

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                                                  Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Fri, 09/21/12 12:45 AM (permalink)
                                                  Oh...wait a minute. Special menu looks like weekly menu (4 days). You'd have to operate within that schedule...


                                                  Wed & Thurs: Noon to 6pm
                                                  Fri: Noon to 8pm
                                                  Sat: Noon to 6pm

                                                  That might eliminate early morning (rush,...but rush is different here & starts around 6 am...& that's also wake-up stay-up coffee time for some a few hours after the bars close)...and I forget what time the Friday concerts go until.
                                                  <message edited by CCinNJ on Fri, 09/21/12 12:55 AM>
                                                   
                                                  #25
                                                    Jaredgibson87

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                                                    • Location: Decatur, AL
                                                    Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Fri, 09/21/12 1:39 AM (permalink)
                                                    I'm not sure why they dont do much in the way of coffee or coffee-based drinks. There's about 100 tenants there (although not all of them are there all the time), according to the website; it seems like there would be at least a small demand for coffee each day the center is open, but whether or not there's enough of a demand to be profitable is my main concern.
                                                     
                                                    I will ask why Happy Tummy isnt doing much in the way of coffee. It might be as simple as the workers and owners dont have space for or dont know how to work anything other than an electric coffee pot, which seems unlikely; things like pour-over coffee brewers and French Presses dont take up much space at all and are pretty simple to use, if you can get the coffee ground  just right (espresso machines might be a different story; they take up a good bit of space, use a good bit of electricity, and are a PITA to use if you're not comfortable with them).
                                                     
                                                    If I'm going to be doing something small like operating a small coffee bar, I'm probably gonna have to limit myself to a smallish menu of brewed coffee and tea. This might be a venture I do on the side while keeping my regular job; I might start out out working only during the Artists Market, and then working in more hours if the concept goes over well. If not, I'm really not out too much $$. I'd like to start off with something like this ( and then working my way up to something bigger and better if I need to. That's something so simple, I could probably build it myself, with the help of a few friends or family members.
                                                     
                                                    I do agree I need to find out why Happy Tummy isnt selling coffee. And I'm hoping it's just the cost and complexity of something like an espresso machine and not that the artists and visitors have vowed to forgo any form of hot caffinated drink :)
                                                     
                                                    #26
                                                      Jaredgibson87

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                                                      • Location: Decatur, AL
                                                      Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Fri, 09/21/12 1:50 AM (permalink)
                                                      also, the whole morning rush thing can be a problem. But hopefully the morning rush can be offset by a steady trickle of artists and visitors that need a caffine boost.
                                                       
                                                      And, off the top of my head, I think the concerts are 6-9pm on Fridays from April to October.
                                                       
                                                      It does look like the concerts and the artists amrket will be the busy times, so I'd probably be making most of my money there.
                                                       
                                                      but as I just said, I wont quit my regular job unless I know I'll be making at least as much as I am now. If not, there's really no point in making this a full-time gig
                                                       
                                                       
                                                      #27
                                                        Dr of BBQ

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                                                        Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Fri, 09/21/12 8:29 AM (permalink)
                                                        September 2012
                                                         
                                                        Just starting out as a food vendor can be a very exciting but daunting undertaking. This month's article will explore tips on how to find events as a new business from Robert Berman.
                                                         
                                                         

                                                         
                                                        #28
                                                          CCinNJ

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                                                          Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Fri, 09/21/12 9:46 AM (permalink)
                                                          Hoboken is small in size but has a big Artist community. I know many great Artists. They sell sell sell...like nobody else. Great at finding (or putting together) events (one-time or on-going) to get the word out...to pay the bills.

                                                          Lowe Mill is a beautiful place. I'm sure it comes at a price.

                                                          Build a rapport with the Artists and see if there are...

                                                          Plans to grow/expand the core as far as scheduled showings....fundraisers (they're usually big into charity & community) events...classes...open houses (turnover happens and space becomes available). See if they travel to any other somewhat local events that are close enough for you that would have means to support the limited support you'd need in regards to a "commissary".

                                                          The Arts Center is a no-go for daily business but try to establish communication with them for an idea of what they do and where they take it...when they take it somewhere else. Of course....if it all works out and you have an opening in your schedule...you'd be happy to show up and work any unique one-time events that might arise.

                                                          The record shop (it seems like you might know them already) would be another great contact for possible leads. If you don't know them you can get to know them easily by shooting the s**t about your passion for vinyl....to break the ice.

                                                          Vinyl businesses ALWAYS have a presence at every Market (Farmer Flea Ethnic Feast/Festival Carnival) here because they need to sell and are always in the market to find a good collection to buy...at a good price from people who realize then & there that they do have a collection somewhere in the house they have not given much thought about...for years!
                                                           
                                                          #29
                                                            CCinNJ

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                                                            Re:Considering a Coffee Cart (or kiosk or truck) in Downtown Decatur, Alabama Fri, 09/21/12 10:16 AM (permalink)
                                                            Also...go through the regs. (or contact with a question) about the requirements need to be defined as a commissary. If you are serving coffee and not starting at tap...it may only come down to on-site disposal for them. You will have a somewhat unique situation...and I'd bet there are some sink facilities throughout...that are as big or bigger than a food service establishment.

                                                            If that's the case...there might be other options at Lowe Center....or if it's not @ compliance level...it might not all that take to much to reach it....with a little motivation.
                                                             
                                                            #30
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