In this new series “The Intrepids” we talk with food entrepreneurs- men and women who are turning their passions in to professions and, as a result, allowing the rest of us to eat (or drink) better.
Alessandro “San” Bellino has been one of my favorite people to talk to. Not just about food or coffee, but in general. Friendly, engaging, smart, and with an Australian accent for Christ’s sakes, the guy seems to have hospitality in his bones. This is who you want to buy coffee, or what ever else, from. And, as we discuss below, soon you will- from a bicycle. On the street. BOOM.
HnS: How long have you been working on this project, The Coffee Trike? I imagine it’s been a long process…
San: It is a long process. It has been almost a year now since I had the idea and then nine months* since I started going to the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center and working with Luciano Sappia, my business advisor there.
HnS: What is this place, the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center?!
San: It is fantastic. They basically give you free business advice. You can go as many times as you like and it’s a completely free service. It’s out of UMass Boston. I went to my advisor and said, “Hey, this is my idea” and he said, “Okay, let’s get this started.”
We put together a business plan, including how to get financing. I didn’t know where to begin so we went through projections and getting the equipment costs. He helped me source a lender and an importer. Everything. I couldn’t have done this without him, it would have been so much harder. It was amazing. I couldn’t speak more highly of him. I still go sometimes to make sure I’m doing things right before my business launches.
HnS: That must be a great feeling, to know you have a solid plan that’s been vetted by someone. It’s a process obviously, and it takes awhile, but it makes yours a solid one.
San: Oh yeah. If there are ever any serious problems and I just call him and he says, “Okay, come and meet with me.”
HnS: And their interest is just helping people create small businesses?
San: Yeah. That’s all it is. Just to help small business owners, whether you want to update or rebrand or if you’re just a start up.
HnS: So you said you had the idea for The Coffee Trike about a year ago, how did it come about?
San: I was hired as a barista at an event and William Davis, a barista champion, was demoing a lever (espresso) machine. He was talking about one concept of the machine being that it could be portable. That started the idea and from there it snowballed: “Okay, make it portable…Bikes! Trikes!”
HnS: So did you come up with the trike design?
San: No, I didn’t. A friend of mine is an architect and drew up plans. The trike is an existing model and I built in to it. You can do anything with this model. One guy in Europe sells candy out of it- it’s essentially a bike with a box. I basically designed how the machine, the grinder, and the rinse sink could be built in.
HnS: How do you get the electricity in it?
San: It’s got batteries.
HnS: Do you power it as you bike?
San: No, I wish! I thought of that but it’s so inefficient.
HnS: You’d have to be biking more than you were selling coffee?
San: Yeah, I’d have to just bike around all day. It’s not practical. I will eventually have solar panels on top, so that’s something I’m projecting for the future.
HnS: This is such a cool idea, I’m so excited about it.
San: Yeah, it’s quite fun. I really like it.
HnS: It will even be a fun thing to see, a design and engineering feat then coffee on top of that. I’d like to hear you’re thoughts on two things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: the growing amount of mobile food trucks but at the same time a lack of mobilized coffee, and what is Boston’s character and personality when it comes to food?
San: Yeah, those are interesting questions. I think part of the reason why we can’t answer the later easily is because Boston is so transient. Everyone leaves and there isn’t really anything holding Boston together in that way. That cultural undertone…I don’t know if you notice that.
HnS: Definitely. All kinds of people come and we get their influences, which is great, but then they leave!
San: There are a lot of jobs in things like medical research, biotech, but there aren’t a lot in other industries. There are, but not as many as you would think.
HnS: And that’s the cool thing about your project. One thing I think is emerging to answer the question of “What are we?” is that our city is about innovation. We don’t get stuck in our ways as much as some other cities do. We are becoming less scared to try something new.
San: Yeah, absolutely. And we are supposedly the most sustainable state and we’ve gotten awards for being the most innovative. I was just at a round table discussion about that.
That’s exactly what I am trying to do with the Trike, draw upon those concepts. I didn’t want to just have a coffee trike, but to be innovative and also focus on quality espresso drinks and bring that experience around to people.
HnS: Right. There are a lot of people who just don’t go the neighborhoods where our great coffee shops are, or who might feel like certain shops aren’t their scene and you’re making that same quality of coffee more accessible.
San: Exactly. It’s a tricycle- if you can get espresso from a tricycle why not!? I noticed Boston’s growing mobile food scene and thought “Why not coffee?” Boston is a geographically fantastic city, it’s a great biking city.
HnS: So was there a decision that you made to go with a tricycle concept rather than a truck?
San: Yeah. I resonate more with bikes. I like the feeling of how friendly and open they are. When I was in Australia I saw a bunch of coffee trucks and vans but I thought the concept could go further. I really wanted it to be a bike. It’s a more sustainable and more environmentally friendly concept. Everything on the bike will be sourced locally, for example.
HnS: Something else I want to explore with you is a question I think about a lot when it comes to coffee and that’s how do you get people interested in great coffee? A lot of people get the impression that speciality coffee is this hipster niche thing, and maybe it is but it doesn’t have to be. It’s that accessibility question again, I guess. If you care about coffee or food you should also care about people, it’s a connection.
San: I’ve noticed that and think about it all the time. I went to a shop recently and tried to ask the barista a few questions and he was really short with me. I don’t understand that attitude because I’ve been in hospitality for a long time, since I was seventeen. My first job was actually at a coffee shop. From there I went to a fine dining restaurant and then a night club and then a cocktail bar. I love talking to people and working with customers.
With the Trike I hope to build interest and talk to people about coffee. I’m constantly learning new things about it- there are just so many variables and my favorite thing to do is talk about it.
HnS: Well, I guess you’ll have a captive audience at the Coffee Trike! Just the coffee and you.
San: And my tricycle.
*This interview was conducted in early June. Since then San has continued development and preparations to launch The Coffee Trike, including developing the awesome logo featured at the top (with help from Alphabet Arm graphic design firm). There are no short cuts to quality, people.
Logo by Alphabet Arm Design