Ben Burton and Elise Loprete (21 and 18) noticed a gap in the market. If you want a good coffee, you have to go to a coffee shop. But what about if the coffee shop could come to your business, your function or your event? CUE: Rustic Bean Espresso Pop Up Café. In a modern world where we’re constantly being told that Generation Y aren’t prepared to work hard, this young boyfriend and girlfriend duo prove us all wrong!
Please introduce yourselves. Where are you from? What school did you both go to, and how did you meet?
My name is Ben Burton, and this is my girlfriend, Elise Loprete. We are 21 and 18 years old. As weird as this sounds, I guess we’re a young couple who share a passion for coffee and Volkswagens, and of course, each other. We’re both local to Coffs Harbour. I moved here with my family from Tamworth eight years ago, and Elise came up from Sydney with her parents too. Elise just finished her HSC at CHEC, and I went to Coffs Harbour Christian Community School. I wonder one day will we get to make coffee for our school Principals?
We met through friends a couple of years ago. We were friends at the beginning and then BANG – now we’re in love.
What is Rustic Bean Espresso, and how did this business come about?
Rustic Bean Espresso is our mobile café – or I like to call it a ‘pop-up coffee shop’. We operate and run our pop up coffee shop out of the back of our Kombi Van. The whole idea of it is to mix our passion for coffee with our united passion for the beloved aircooled Volkswagen.
It all began over a simple conversation that I was having with Elise, my brother Sam, his partner (who doubles as our coffee roaster) Kirby – over a beer. We were just discussing casually how cool it would be to sell coffee out of a Kombi Van (laughs). At this point (June 2012), I personally owned a 1960 VW Beetle, and Kirby owned a Kombi.
After driving her bus, we were in love with the idea, and within a few weeks we took a road trip to Sydney to sell my Beetle, and pick up our brand new 1970 lowlight Kombi (well it wasn’t new – it was a complete bomb!) But now, with a load of hard work, the ‘Rustic Bean Espresso’ was born.
From picking up the Kombi, it sort of just snowballed quickly into something great! The idea that was once a conversation over a beer has became a reality. Elise and I have been so blessed in the fact that we shared a vision of exactly how the van would look, and how we went about it. She is really stylish and has a keen eye for the cool vintage theme, and plus, she makes an amazing sandwich! I guess my strengths are the ability to turn a wrench (thanks Dad!) This meant that we were able to team up and get most of the van done without pulling each other’s hair out! I’m pleasantly surprised that there were no fights, and we worked really well together to execute the end result.
The plan was: lower it – a lot. Keep it ‘ratty’; we like the raw look. We wanted to honour the period style sign writing on the side. And if we agreed on one thing; it was to pump out damn good coffee!
The general reaction from the public has been overwhelming! It’s funny: everyone has a story about a Kombi! I’m always hearing, “My Great Uncle Charles used to own a Kombi van; we would pile all the kids in the back and go to the beach on a Saturday”, or, “You kids are so silly … should have done in it a proper car – something more reliable!” (Laughs.) People can relate to the old fashioned Kombi van, and we get a buzz from explaining the history of our van and our journey whilst pumping out epic coffee in the morning to the passersby! It’s awesome to be able to stand with the customers that we’ve just served and swap stories, hear their ideas and meet new people. That’s the real highlight in a career like this!
How would you describe the journey? What are some of the challenges the business has faced?
One word? HARD! It’s endless challenges every day. Problem number one? Our Kombi hadn’t been registered since 1988. It needed more work than we could’ve ever imagined, just to get it to roadworthy standards. And then we had to work day and night to get it fitted out as a mobile pop up coffee shop!
We started with replacing the decrepit suspension. Lowered it – multiple times. We had to replace the motor, the brakes, the interior, the wheels, tyres – it goes on! The only real thing we kept original was the paint job. We figured we would keep the outside the way Mother Nature had obviously wanted it to look.
Our parents have been a massive part of the journey as well. We completely ‘did up’ the Kombi in our parents’ driveway … my parents’ place, if it was a nice day, or if it was raining we took it over to Elise’s parents’ place and worked on it in their garage. We stained the concrete on their driveways (laughs) and we totally decorated both front yards with random engines, engine parts, coffee machines, generators and bins worth of junk. The support they’ve offered us has been priceless – despite making the front of their houses look like a junk-yard, they still always offered us a lending hand and kept telling us when we would feel overwhelmed, “Don’t give up!”Parents are awesome, aren’t they?
Then with the agreed idea to keep the van in its natural state, came the task of trying to find a suitable name that would reflect the car’s personality and individuality. It was on another road-trip, this time to Byron Bay to pick up interior cabinets, when Elise looked across at me and said, “Oh my God! Ben, Rustic Bean!”And so it was born.
The next drama was trying to fit out a beaten up old bus to make it become a Espresso van, on a budget … of course, whilst meeting the health regulations.
This meant doing everything ourselves. Countless hours were spent on the inside of the van, turning it from originally being a nine seater micro bus, to the pop up coffee shop you see today. Naturally there are no perfect parts to turn your hippy van into a café. It’s not like you call a store and order parts for a Kombi van café fitout. Everything is custom made. Stainless steel benches were made by Kirby’s mates in Brisbane. Cabinets are recycled, then modified to fit. Suspension had to be aligned five times, raised, then lowered – this went on, and on each time we’d add a new component to the van. There were times when I was lying under the van, skinned knuckles covered in grease, that I could’ve given up.
The night before we were due to open, all we had to do was install the generator and of course, we had no engine power! We had no petrol and no humour. The first week of opening, the van’s distributor broke. But we didn’t let that stop us. We still drove it with huge bangs, backfires and cursing!
You’re both very young to have experience with Council permits. Has this process been easy?
Council has been AMAZING! And completely understanding that we are young and just trying to have a go. From day one, they supplied us with a list of things needed for Council approval, and they patiently listened to our phone calls when we didn’t understand the red tape. When the van finally passed inspection (after seven months), we now look back and are pumped that so many people in the community have gotten behind us and shown such awesome support!
Where do you source your coffee?
We get our coffee from Kirby Berlin, the face behind Penny Farthing Coffee Roasters. It’s a boutique local roastery. Kirby has created the most beautiful blends of beans, from countries such as Papua New Guinea, Honduras, and Guatemala, to create the finest coffee you can buy.
Coffee is very competitive industry. What makes your coffee skills stand out against café baristas?
Both Elise and I have worked separately in the industry before joining forces. My experience was gained at Urban Espresso Lounge, and Elise has worked at a handful of different cafés around Coffs Harbour.
We have both worked with and under Kirby, who was Australian latte art champion. She is a great talent and has taught us skills from enhancing the flavours, latte art and how to get the best pour.
It’s a random thing, to collect Kombi Vans: where does this passion come from?
The passion is really more for Volkswagens, for all the aircooled models. Elise had wanted a Kombi since she was young and had a picture of a sky blue camper taped to her pencil tin in Grade Six. Elise’s first car is an old blue 1974 Kombi Panel. Our next project is to get that back on the road!
For me, I just love cars. Since I got my licence four years ago, I’ve owned 26 cars. The last 7 of those were Volkswagens. I used to want every car I saw, and scoured eBay for cool looking cars. I bought a 1964 Beetle, and that’s where my love for the humble Volkswagen started.
Where can we get a cup of your coffee? Do you have a daily schedule of where we can find you?
We are only freshly opened and are still building up business, but our first point of call is servicing the businesses down on Duke Street, near Centrelink each morning, so please come down and give us a go! You can’t miss it. Or remember, we’re mobile, so if you’d like us to visit your business – please give us a holler!
What are your plans for the future?
Right now the plan for the future is making this business sustainable and successful, then we will probably look into something more permanent (I mean a business with walls) … a café, maybe?
We are looking at expanding into events. We can cater for any outdoor event, work functions, the races, weddings or festivals.
Thanks guys. Good luck with everything!
This article was published in issue 30 of Coffs Coast Focus