Little is known about when the first coffee carts or kiosks emerged except for a footnote in coffee history when street lemonade vendors in Venice sold coffee along with cold beverages to the masses sometime in the fifteenth century.
In 1946, coffee as a “take anywhere, anytime beverage” became even more popular with the invention of coffee vending machines. But perhaps it wasn’t until the likes of Starbucks and Seattle’s Best came into the scene that coffee-drinking took on a whole new meaning. It has percolated from being a “perk upper” and a beverage of conviviality into a lifestyle.
And small entrepreneurs are cashing in on the trend. Coffee carts or kiosks have sprouted on street corners, malls, hospitals, office buildings, beach fronts, theme parks and other recreational areas. Given the right location (visibility and accessibility to coffee drinkers and the public in general) and with little or no competition, coffee carts and kiosks can rake in from US$250 to US$1,500 a day. The great thing about coffee carts is that you can easily pack up and move to another location if business turns out slow.
But before you decide to get into the mobile coffee business, keep in mind that it doesn’t come cheap. Aside from investing in the actual cart or kiosk and equipment, you will have to contend with the regular expenses on lease (if you do end up renting space), business and sanitation permits, coffee beans, syrups, milk, sugar, Styrofoam cups/mugs, and other products. Add to this the salaries of your staff also called “baristas” who prepare and serve your coffees if you won’t be running the business by yourself.
A fully-equipped cart or kiosk could run between US$10,000 to US$30,000. Obviously, if you intend to open in a prestigious or popular location, you will need to spend a little more to make your cart or kiosk look good against other stores in the area.
There are a number of other factors that you should look into before making your first investment. Consider the following:
Location – is the most important factor. An excellent location can easily give you a gross income of from US$20,000-US$30,000 a month by your second month of operation. The locations with the better chances of success include those next to colleges and universities, in a business district, busy streets and tourist areas, airports and large hospitals or clinics, and shopping malls. Make sure to check with the local restaurant and health inspection department if you can operate your coffee business in these areas.
Design – aside from visual appeal, your station must also be designed for speed and efficient customer service as you don’t want them waiting too long. Remember, your cart or kiosk will be frequented by coffee lovers on the go. Thus, speed and quality of both service and product are a must for your customers and your cash register.
Customer Safety – make sure you have insulated cups that keep the coffee hot inside and not on the outside. The lids itself must be secured firmly so that the hot coffee does not spill on your customers at the slightest movement. Have carrying trays available as well to allow for multiple orders all at one time.
Marketing – your main reason for the business is to make money and espresso-based drinks like latte obviously bring in more revenue compared to the usual brewed or “house coffee”. For this reason, you should give special attention to developing an espresso drink-based marketing program and product line which are the more popular choices especially among young coffee drinkers.
Taste – where the perfect espresso-based beverage depends on you or your baristas’ expertise in coffee preparation not on the variety of flavoured syrup you add to mask the usual bitterness. Coffee preparation, after all, is also an art. Here are some basic preparations:
Caffe espresso or just plain espresso has a thicker consistency compared to other brewed coffee. The secret to its flavour is the pressurized brewing method which fully concentrates all the flavours and natural chemicals. Espresso is the base of such concoctions as latte, cappuccino, mocha, macchiato and Americano.
Cappuccino is prepared with espresso, hot milk and steam milk foam. The foam acts as an insulator to keep the beverage hot for a longer period of time. Some versions will also have a sprinkling of cocoa, cinnamon or nutmeg powder.
Latte which originated from the Italian caffelatte meaning “coffee and milk” is just that, made with espresso and steamed milk.
Caffe au lait is the French version of the latte although the milk that is added is hot. In some coffee houses, the drink is made from strong drip brewed coffee with added steamed milk. It is also the main difference with latte which uses espresso as base.
Caffe mocha is still another variant of latte. It is a mix of one-third espresso, two-thirds steamed milk with a portion of either white or dark chocolate. A mixture of both can also be added to make a cafe zebra mocha. Like the cappussino, cafe mocca has the froth on top although whipped cream can also be added at times. Cinnamon and marshmallows can also be sprinkled for added flavour.
Pricing – know how much your competitors sell their own line of coffee drinks. You’d want your coffee to be priced competitively given your investment and expenses. You neither want to be priced too low at the expense of your revenue nor too high that you lose customers to your competitor down the street.
Are you making money with your own coffee cart or kiosk or thinking about doing so? Be sure to share your comments, thoughts, ideas below…