If you’ve passed the corner of Buffalo and Broadway in Milwaukee’s Third Ward over the past few weeks, you may have seen two guys in hockey jerseys selling coffee from a bike-powered cart with a green welcome mat.
That’s Milwaukee Coffee Peddlers, a brand new eco-friendly mobile coffee vendor operation that aims to change the way you think about your morning coffee.
From hot dogs to coffee
The company, which officially launched on April 11, is owned and operated by Milwaukee All-Star Mike Bate and partner Matt Magruder, long-time friends who say they came together to enact a business that would make a difference in Milwaukee, while providing a sense of professional satisfaction.
"The idea behind a mobile cart is to provide a new cafe experience for people," says Bate. "There’s lots of coffee in this town, but we’re giving people a new innovative way to get it. In the end, it’s about convenience. If we can save people an extra 20 minutes of sleep and a five block walk to the nearest cafe, then our mission is accomplished."
At the cart, you can order a simple pour-over coffee or opt for a red eye, espresso, Americano or hot chocolate (priced $2.25-$4.50); flavor shots are also available for $0.50 each. And if you're hungry, there are also snacks like chocolate bars, bakery and fruit.
Bate, who has worked as a line therapist with the Wisconsin Early Autism program for over five years, got his start in the food cart business operating the West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe hot dog cart near St. Paul and Broadway. He says he took the gig, at least in part to gain the experience he needed so he could eventually start his own food truck business.
"I’ve been in the service industry forever," he says. "And I’ve worked as a waiter, a delivery driver and a bartender. I also love working with kids on the spectrum. So, the idea behind the food truck would be to work with kids – particularly those with autism or disabilities – and give them work experience."
Meanwhile, Magruder, a busy dad who works as the environmental research manager for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, says he fell in love with the idea of having a food truck while he was in Door County.
"I was there, unwinding with my family," he says. "And I met this cool laid back dude who was slinging hot dogs on the lake while watching all the boats pull in and out. He looked so happy, and I thought to myself, ‘That’s so cool.’"
So, he approached Bate with the idea of going into business together.
"We had a beer talked," he says. "Ultimately, we decided that we wanted to start small and do something different. And that’s how the coffee cart idea was born."
The two made the decision early on that they’d purchase a cart from Wheelys, a company based in Stockholm, Sweden, that manufactures low-cost eco-friendly mobile cafes.
"We loved the idea behind the company," says Bate. "Their CEO applied for a job at Starbucks, and they denied her because her hair color was ‘too blue’ and she supposedly didn’t fit their corporate image. So, she started her own company. They’ve been around for a few years, and now have Wheelys all over the world."
People & eco-friendly
Bate and Magruder also loved the eco-friendly mission.
"The cart is powered by bike, so we’re using very little power," says Bate. "And we invested in high quality equipment – like well insulated cambros that keeps our water piping hot – so that we could reduce our footprint even further."
One such piece of equipment is a Rok manual espresso maker, which operates simply with hot water and air pressure to create a hot delicious espresso with a nice crema on top.
"People are really interested in the craft of coffee, so our goal is to provide really high quality brewed coffee," says Bate. "The Rok is simple and very low tech. But it also gives you good consistent results without power. There’s an art to it, but when it’s done well, it’s beautiful."
And the coffee they serve – made by Grounds for Change – is mission-driven, as well.
"The coffee we buy is just another aspect of what we stand for," says Magruder. "It’s fair trade and organic. It’s also shade grown coffee, which promotes biodiversity and is on the front of sustainable foresting. It doesn’t promote clear-cutting and makes a difference in the ecological sense. It also gives you a good quality, great tasting bean.
"Another thing about Grounds for Change is that they’re certified net carbon free," he notes "They plant trees to offset their carbon footprint. They recycle pallets and bags they use for beans. They also give 1% back to causes and initiatives that support their mission."
"Serving While We Serve"
Bate and Magruder are also committed to doing good with the profits from Milwaukee Coffee Peddlers. And that’s why they’ve launched a program called "Serving While We Serve," an initiative that aims to support area non-profit organizations.
"The goal is to support local causes with some of our profits," says Magruder. "Right now, our goal is to partner with a new organization each month and give them as close to 10% of our net revenue as we can. In fact, that 10% may also come in multiple forms. We like the idea of donating our coffee, our time and anything else organizations might need."
Currently, support is going to Islands of Brilliance, a non-profit graphic design company started by Mark and Margaret Fairbanks that aims to foster graphic design skills in kids with autism.
"The kids are paired with mentors to work on graphic design projects," says Bate. "They helped us with some marketing tools, including our custom mug and our logo, which was designed by a 16-year-old who works with the program. In return for their help, we’re raising money for them.
Bate says as time goes on, Milwaukee Coffee Peddlers will be listening to its customers to find out about other worthy organizations that they might choose to support.
Ultimately, he says he wants the company to fuel good feelings for its customers.
"We want people to see us, to get excited," says Bate. "And we want people to stop, grab coffee and have a conversation with us. We want to be the best part of peoples’ day."
Milwaukee Coffee Peddlers will be making appearances in the Third Ward, as well as near Johnson Controls, Northwestern Mutual and at farmer’s markets and various events around town. For their current location, check in with them on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.