When Lucas Phillips and Brammy Geduld walked onto Northwestern University’s campus as freshmen last year, they ran into a problem: The dining hall coffee wasn’t cutting it.
“There was no place to get quality coffee within 15 minutes of where you would typically be on campus as a [student],” said Geduld.
So the duo, both self-proclaimed foodies with an interest in entrepreneurship (and restaurant experience–Geduld worked behind the counter at her family’s donut shop, the Donut Pub, in New York City growing up), decided to tackle the problem by opening their own shop.
The result is BrewBike: A portable coffee stand serving iced coffee and tea, housed in a custom-made cargo bike from Heritage Bicycles.
Originally Geduld and Phillips hoped to open a student-run coffee shop on campus, but after months of talks and training with the on-campus dining service Sodexo, they decided they wanted more autonomy.
From there, they toyed with ideas ranging from a coffee tent to coffee school bus to coffee trailer. They went with a cargo bike, because it was cheaper, portable and wouldn’t require a food vehicle license from the city of Evanston (instead they have a vendor license).
To get BrewBike off the ground, the team crowdfunded $10,000 on Indiegogo and received $10,000 for going through Wildfire, an accelerator program run by The Garage, a Northwestern entrepreneurship hub, this summer.
BrewBike tapped Heritage Bicycles, a Chicago bike and coffee shop, to create a custom-built cargo bike that could hold several kegs of coffee and tea, with built in taps and a small container behind the seat opens up to create a makeshift shelf for cream and sugar. They sell iced coffee and tea from Limitless High Definition Coffee and Tea–they met founder Matt Matros (also the founder of health food chain Protein Bar) at an event at The Garage.
“I was excited to partner with Lucas and Brammy because they are two of the sharpest young people I have ever met in my life,” said Matros over email. “They are truly hustlers that have kept their eyes on the prize…They have their finger on the pulse of what their consumer wants and needs, which is the hallmark of a great business owner.”
Each weekday (unless the temperature dips below 40 degrees), Phillips pedals BrewBike to campus, and parks outside the Technological Institute (2145 N. Sheridan Road) from 9 am to 4 pm, selling iced coffee and matcha green tea–$3.50 for a small, $4 for a large. On cooler days they’ve experimented with caffeinated hot chocolate from Buzz Cocoa. They’ve hired eight Northwestern students to staff the cart.
Since officially launching BrewBike in August (they pedaled a prototype at events last spring), Geduld estimates they sell 80 to 100 cups on an average day, and over 50 percent of their customers return after their first purchase (they have a loyalty program where customers’ 10th cup is free).
Though coffee has long been a staple of the college experience, the cofounders say that there’s a growing interest in quality brew among students.
“The coffee shop environment has always been a really college thing,” said Phillips. “The quality coffee, really good coffee, caring about where your coffee comes from, what type of coffee drink you’re having is a recent thing. Especially the cold brew thing. Cold brew is twice as caffeinated, so that’s just a huge plus to college students. It also tastes better.”
Cold brew is twice as caffeinated, so that’s just a huge plus.
Cold brew, which consists of steeping coffee grounds in cold or room temperature water for an extended time, only accounts for a small portion of the ready-to-drink coffee market (about one percent), but it’s growing: Mintel found the cold brew segment grew 580 percent from 2011 to 2016.
Phillips said they’re breaking even financially, but they’re more focused on getting experience running the business and learning best practices along the way. For example, they used to pedal to different locations on campus throughout the day, but found they had more repeat customers if they stayed in one heavily-trafficked location.
Time management, especially as student startup founders, has also been a lesson learned: “It’s not like you can just skip classes to work the bike,” said Geduld. “It’s helped me become a better student because I’ve had to learn how to balance my time and manage my time…I’ll have my laptop out, writing a paper that’s due the next day, while serving people coffee.”
This winter, they’re looking to do indoor pop-ups with hot coffee and hot chocolate, and they’ll be back outdoors when the weather warms up next spring. Eventually, they said they’d like to open a permanent location.