Espresso Outfitters
We cater to the food service and beverage industry nationwide.
Tel: (360) 949-3662
EspressoOutfitters@Gmail.com
12004 NE 4th Plain Road, Suite D #235
Vancouver, Washington 98682
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Are you wanting to open an espresso cart?  This information is designed for you!

Starting an espresso cart effectively requires paying attention to the details to the actual shop it's being placed in as well as negotiating techniques unique to the espresso cart world.  To begin with, your first priority is finding a location that generates enough targeted foot traffic.  What makes the cart unique in this area, is the fact that you are looking for the actual placement of the cart within the actual location of the facility.  Being next to the door to greet the visitors is always best of course,  it's best to get the floor plan, watch where people go and find the absolute highest saturated areas possible, you may have to place the X on the map in several different areas for presentation to the owners in case they have other ideas as to where you should be at.

The better locations of course are areas where the owners care more about bringing in and supporting people with your added services, but with a decent lease negotiated, any targeted spot will be a great place to set up shop.

Your design theme:

From there, you'll want to get your espresso cart design and theme laid out.  This means you want to compliment the operation it's going in while maximizing the overall wow factor for those that are frequenting it.  A metal stagnate box will just not do if the general ambiance at the establishment is conservative, old world themed for example.  Look at the decor closely, does it have an actual theme that it's trying to maintain?  Some owners will not even talk to you if they think what you are setting up is going to clash with their decor.  Ultimately you will want to make your cart as the center piece of their place, try to maintain that ideal not only for the immediate purposes of securing the location, but to take what is already there design wise to support and project your operation.  On the other hand, they may have no theme at all and it's a free for all, at that point, you'll want something outstanding design wise to set itself apart from the rest of what is at the location.  You'll be using the Vegas factor if that's the case, the bells and whistles will very much be necessary. Your designer should be able to build "outside of the box" regardless.  Simply picking a cart off the shelves just is a quick way to get started unless it happens to fit what you are doing, if you truly want something in the most tactful manner, you'll have a design nobody has seen before, or at least not bore them to death with a generic box type of construction.  Their is something to be said about familiarity for recognition as well, so you shouldn't go too crazy, this field just requires more intensive tactics.  Think of it along the line of when you are driving down the street, do you notice a generic building with flat graphics, or does your head turn noticing a unusual design.

Products and service:

After securing your location, "hopefully with a long lease" you'll need to focus upon quality of service and equipment.  There are several roasters, equipment suppliers and espresso cart manufacturers that boast they are the best, but no matter who you choose, a good or bad shot of espresso can be created using any of these for the most part.  Expect to do your homework as to what company to go through, there are several factors involved within of course as follows:

Equipment:

Espresso Machines:
Prepare for volume of use but it's not necessary to overbuy.   A 2 group espresso machine is the standard in the industry, there have been some rather puny designs created in the past, thankfully if you are buying new you will not run into them.  I suggest getting a mid/higher end model to start out with.  If you are on an extreme budget, you can slide by with a one group, but expect to have to upgrade to a 3 group with a larger boiler and heating element eventually if you do things right.  Many people get caught up into the features their machine has and the fully automatic machine is of course most user friendly but their is nothing like serving espresso by a fine barista that takes it as an art, where the semi auto and manual machines are the way to go.  You'll of course find the more features, the more costs are involved with the initial purchase of them.

Grinders:

Grinders should be something you will never skimp upon, expect to pay between $450-$800 for a standard commercial model, and each blend of espresso you serve should ultimately have it's own dedicated grinder.  You can get away with just one grinder, emptying the hopper for each blend, but it's a cumbersome method.  

Refrigeration:

You will need a commercial refrigerator to accommodate frequent use, i.e.. you will be opening the doors much more frequently then a home model, it's imperative to keep the temperature consistent.  Beverage Air, True, Silverking are a few brands to stick with, there are of course other manufacturers, but you'll want to make sure it's going to supply enough internal space as well as fit within the confines of the cart itself, this is where you'll see some commonalties within the espresso cart industry.

Espresso Cart:

Along your espresso cart, there is a much smaller circle of manufacturers that produce them, luckily the author of this page happens to be one of the best in the industry.  You'll find the options to be similar from the operators point of view, some options are mandatory, others are pretty much fluff.  If you refer to the above section, you'll see the importance of having one that is flexible.  Also, some of the terminology can be rather vague unless you happen to be in the industry.  What you'll be looking for to start out with is the actual material that is used to physically construct the cart.  MDF, Melamine, are basically particle board, it's substanially heavy weight and lack of integrity is far inferior compared to MDO, partical board is just a soup of sawdust held together with glue, Mdo is layers of fir saturated with a water resistant compound, bound together in layers to provide structural integrity, it's also what is used for making road signs.  Your cart will be cleaned and re-cleaned constantly, you cannot afford to have cleaning solutions and water break down the core building materials of your cart.  Along the long term as well, you'll want to have aluminum and stainless steel with the hardware for any exposed areas to be prominent.  The sneeze guard is another matter that is often overlooked as well.  Glass looks nice, but is easily broken, Plexiglas on the other hand is not only lighter, but any scratches can easily be buffed out.  The castors "wheels" should be rated to withstand extreme weights, so far, I haven't seen any espresso carts that have skimped in this area, so it's not as much of an issue these days compared to a few years ago.  The overall surfacing for any exposed areas should be fully laminated with a commercial laminate, many people misconstrued the name brand Formica as being a type of surfacing, Formica is just a name brand for a laminate, the other major players in the industry is Wilsonart and Pionite.  The selection from these 3 give you hundreds of different colors, patterns and textures.  As a rule, the more elaborate the pattern and texture, the higher the costs will be.  Keep this also in mind, we are talking raw square footage on the cart inside and out.

Over all construction: The hardware and design techniques and procedures should not be skimped upon, an espresso cart is going to be moved, abused, and used to a level most commercial cabinetry never has to go through. If the builder doesn't keep this in mind through every element of construction, you'll soon find your "mobile cafe" crumbling to the ground.  Even the amount of torque applied to how the screws are in place is critical.  If you decide to build your own, you should take it into consideration, do NOT rely upon any framework system to make up for bad construction.  If you are purchasing from a large company and the moral from the assembly line is low, chances are high that you'll find problems arising months to years down the road.

Buying Used Over New:

Just like buying a used car over a new one, the same analogy goes with the espresso world, "buyer beware".  You can get some great deals going the used route, but only if you know what you are buying and can fully rebuild a lemon.  Unlike cars, where you can just drag it down to the local mechanic, there is little you can do to assess the actual problems, or potential problems of these without taking them apart.  Having the seller supply you with the full maintenance and repair history of what you are purchasing is a must, if they can't supply that, chances are it was never maintained properly so a complete overhaul should be part of the overall investment.  This of course excludes pre inspected/overhauled systems from one of the experts in the field, so, for example, when you buy used from E-bay, be fully prepared to break it down to it's bare minimum and replace 100% of the gaskets and any defective/potentially defective components.  If you do decide to go this route, it's best to have an expert to consult before putting down the cash, it will save you alot more money in the long run.  In the past, I've had clients ask me to refurbish their espresso carts, only to have to explain to them that it would take more time and money to do that then build a new one from scratch, Espresso Outfitters carts are the "ONLY" exception, I haven't had any requests for a rebuild of my own carts and it's been 11 years since the first one rolled out of the shop, so shows they are being built right.

The product itself:

No matter how well set you are with everything, your roaster is going to make or break your operation even if you do everything right.  You cannot flavor, milk down, or re-process your base product "espresso" to cover up skimping upon who you buy your beans from.  You'll want to get the best of both worlds, 1. Find a bean that is uniform when you break it in two, consistent and prompt when you order it regularly and above all, tastes good.  2. Find a roaster that is willing to train your staff as well as help with the business end.  You may have to compromise on option number 2 since the smaller roasters cannot be everywhere at once and the smaller roasters in this field as of April 2004 produce the absolute best in the industry, luckily we have web based applications as well as the phone to help supplement it, also if you are hard core about it, taking a flight out to the roaster is a must do, there is nothing like seeing it being processed and being trained at the plant to give you a more hands on approach.

Your employees:

If you aren't running your espresso cart, then your employees are acting on behalf of yourself, treat them well and pay them well.  Take extra time and consideration into who you hire to represent you.  I'd opt for a personality with a bit of flavor and bubbly temperament over an expert froth maker.  Read the above paragraph about training in case you are worried about going this route.  The one thing that is lacking in business these days is service, I deal strictly with business owners and their trusted representative, but am equally interested and accustomed in talking to the person on the production line just to make sure they are happy which reflects upon the final product.  I've seen too many companies that care more about their shareholders opinions then actual managment/staff relationships.  If the stockholders had a clue, they'd but out and allow the company to manage their employees, instilling confidence, a long term reward for sticking with the company as well as general high moral for their staff, not forced, but through "legit" means.  I'll set up an example:

In seattle, one of the first espresso carts that were established, the owner gave the employees a total of 10% ownership of the company.  This in turn turned a fledging operation from barely making a living to over 2.5 mil a year in gross sales within a year, this pretty much is the catalyst for the mentality you have to adopt if you hire employees.  Give them incentive for sticking with the company treat them right and give them a vision to look forward to when things pan out as planned.  Reinvest back into the company to make it both easier on the employees as well as expanding the operation and you'll be unstoppable.

In conclusion:

Your espresso cart is it's own self contained cafe, it has enough potential to place you in a 6-7 digit income bracket set up correctly at the proper location to a level no other business with a comparable initial expenditure can match.  Carts are also a great way to test the waters in any given area as well as can be expanded upon easily.  There are many very high end, costly, cafe's drive throughs and mobile units that started with a cart, the profits from the cart funded them and allowed them the confidence to move forward in a big way. All business is a gamble, and if you ever wondered about what it takes to get into the espresso business and don't have alot of money to get started, an espresso cart is a way to do it within human terms without having to risk your entire life savings or going in debt.  The average costs involved are comparable to buying a new economy car, the difference is, your economy car loses it's value the instant it is off of the lot, it's not the same in this field and in fact, it's not unheard of for it to pay for itself within the first 6 months.

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