Cafe2U got its start on the northern beaches of Sydney, Australia, when a young entrepreneur decided that there was a large section of the rapidly growing gourmet coffee market that was not being serviced – office parks, industrial estates and events. He came up with an inventive solution, squeezing a full barista bar into the back of a van, as well as a gasoline-generator to power all the equipment, a water tank for water storage and brewing, and the best coffee beans that he could buy.
Fortunately, that entrepreneur had the support of Andy Simpkin, the owner of the Belaroma Coffee Roasting Company. Belaroma Coffee Roasting Company has been operating in Sydney since 1968 and is consistently ranked as one of the top coffee roasters in Australia and also recognized internationally.
By 2004 there were quite a few vans on Sydney’s northern beaches but without clear territories, uniform systems and consistently great quality coffee there was limited opportunity to grow. Simpkin could clearly see that the model was working at an individual level amazingly well: The van operators were selling as much coffee as a medium sized café and were finished and off surfing by 1 or 2 p.m. in the afternoon, with limited overheads other than the van, coffee, milk and a bit of gas.
Simpkin invested in the concept and founded the Cafe2U Franchise System in early 2005, which allowed the rapid and successful spread of the business concept throughout Australia.
Simpkin and the Cafe2U team refined the espresso van concept, creating an iconic espresso machine on wheels. The bright red vans are emblazoned with latté art and coffee beans, and a distinctive musical horn helps make the vehicle an attention grabber. As our regular customers line up outside the van, curious bystanders often walk up to see what the fuss is about. When a Cafe2U barista throws open the back doors to reveal a full espresso bar, it certainly adds to the drama. When bystanders taste our coffee and realize that it is often significantly better than the coffee they can get at most chain shops, they usually become a regular — often lobbying our baristas to add their office to the daily route.
Since Cafe2U began franchising in 2005, the company has expanded from 12 mobile coffee vans — all in Sydney’s northern beaches area — to more than 200 Cafe2U vans throughout Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
At its heart, Cafe2U sells three things: Convenience, an enjoyable break during the workday — and excellent espresso coffee.
Excellent coffee: A lot of people are skeptical about whether an espresso drink that comes from the back of a van can match the quality of a cup from a café. That skepticism melts into delight when people taste our coffee. Cafe2U has proven its quality by competing in international coffee roasting and cupping contests. At the 2010 CSR Golden Bean Roasting Competition, Cafe2U’s blend competed against more than 1,200 blends from other coffee sellers worldwide. Out of 1,200, we placed third in the global contest, better than any American brand of coffee and not too shabby for an espresso drink that is delivered directly to consumers.
Convenience: Cafe2U’s excellent coffee is a godsend for people who are trapped in their offices all day, or stuck on a car lot, or in industrial areas without much retail. Rather than drinking crummy drip coffee — or having no coffee at all — customers get access to excellent coffee and a fun break during their day. John O’Guinn of Eugene, Oregon, quickly became a regular customer when Cafe2U started coming to his office. He likes lattés, but his office only had drip coffee, which he refuses to drink. “I have my standards,” he says, adding that he drinks a lot more lattés now that Cafe2U delivers to his office.
An enjoyable break: Cafe2U vans visit offices at the same time each day, and customers soon make the stop part of their routines. Chad Smith, who works at Home Federal Credit Bank in Eugene, says that “eyes kind of light up” when the coffee van pulls into the parking lot and sounds its distinctive musical horn. More than a dozen customers quickly fill the sidewalk around the Cafe2U van. “It’s usually a fun chance to socialize, Smith says. “A lot of people get really excited about their special drink creations. They have good food, too. We don’t have any vending machines inside, so this is where people come to splurge.”