After she sold her coffee cart in 1998, Celeste Clark rose from retail to roaster and onto trainer at Tully’s (now closed), then took a break from the coffee biz to help friends open restaurants. Eventually, she ended up as a roaster at Zoka. But there was something about the mobile food explosion that caught her eye. “I saw food trucks happening… but no espresso.”
In 2013, when Clark bought “Annie,” the name she tenderly calls her truck, “So many things didn’t work, we had to buy gas just to test drive it… and the brake pedal was held on by a pink zip tie.” With a weekend spot at the Center for Wooden Boats, she found herself right back in the same neighborhood she’d started in -- yet in a completely different environment. In 1994, South Lake Union had an estimated 17,000 jobs and was expected to add 4,500 by 2014. Today, Amazon, alone, employs most of its 40,000 Seattle-based employees in the neighborhood.
After work she biked around the city, looking for a full-time spot to park her truck, to no avail -- until another player in the mobile coffee world inadvertently gave her a leg up. It happened after Amtrak approached the bicycle-pulled Convoy Coffee cart, asking if they wanted to sell coffee outside the station (since it currently offered only vending machines). Because Convoy only sold pour over coffee, not drip or espresso, they turned it down -- and Celeste was quick to snatch up the spot.
Alex Johnstone and his business partner, David Rothstein, chose to do only pour over at Convoy because they had an additional challenge. Even with a truck equipped with fridges and an espresso machine, Clark described the mobile coffee business as “like going camping every day.” Johnstone and Rothstein, then, go backpacking: Convoy is run entirely by bicycle.
A bike-pulled coffee cart like Convoy has its fair share of challenges -- wind, rain, and the main limiting factor for them: how much water they could pull around by bike. Consistency is still a big factor; they make minor tweaks like using paper clips to hold filters onto the Hario v60 setups they use. Today, they have an indoor kiosk in Pioneer Square, as well as the cart they bike to the U-District and Ballard farmers' markets. But Johnstone makes clear that they’re on their way out-of-doors, not in. “Mobile is hard,” he says, “but there’s amazing potential to reach customers in a new way.”