Dave Hart is co-owner of Collective Espresso, a business that is synonymous with quality coffee in Cincinnati. It currently operates out of brick-and-mortar coffee shops in Northside and Over-the-Rhine, and just recently, a mobile coffee truck was added to the blend.
This development, called Collective Field Services, began around the same time Hart and his business partner Dustin Miller lost their lease at the Contemporary Arts Center. That was their third coffee shop; it was replaced with a second Bottle & Basket, a deli owned by the ever-expanding Wellmann’s Brands.
The coffee truck, a 1982 Chevy G30, made its first venture into the city at the first spring City Flea, and later that day, at the Pollination Festival in Northside. Hart spoke with Soapbox about what led to the acquisition of the truck and what it means for Collective Espresso’s presence in Cincinnati.
So what's the story behind the truck?
The truck also comes from Berlin, Ohio. It’s kind of an interesting story, how this all came about. It started in a very organic way. We had a meeting with the guys from Such and Such to fabricate a bike for us, and we’re building this bike — it’s a pedicab that’s going to haul kegs of cold brew — and it’ll just do weekend events. It’s not like a staple of the business or anything like that, it’ll just be for special events.
When we first started talking about this, we thought this could be the launch for a whole mobile food and coffee operation. At the time, this truck had been in the fold. Dustin’s brother had two delis up in the Berlin area and he does a hot dog cart during special events. He bought the truck to sell hot dogs, but he’s got a million things going on. Right around the time of our talks with Such and Such, we found an espresso machine, a Synesso, for a really reasonable price outside Philadelphia. It’s similar to what we have at Collective Espresso Northside but smaller — it’s a two-group Synesso. We found a heck of a deal on it and we kind of just bought it with no real intentions. We knew at some point we would need it. It could have been a backup.
At this point, we have no CAC location and we have an espresso machine. We needed to do something. It was a week later when Dustin’s brother, Ryan, called and said he was selling the truck and asked if we wanted it. It all happened in the span of two or three weeks and it made perfect sense to us as a logical progression. We have a killer staff from CAC and we figured we could absorb them into something new that we do, so all signs pointed toward it as a no-brainer.
The truck is named after a bus that hauls Amish people from where Dustin and I are from, and it’s called Pioneer Trails. It takes Amish people from Berlin to Florida. A lot of Amish people go to Sarasota in the winter. We want to get “Pioneer Trails” painted on the front of the truck.
When did you buy the truck?
We bought the truck in November. It sat at my parents’ house for a while and we’d go up on weekends to work on it. We gutted the whole thing. It used to be a book mobile — growing up in the country, if your town doesn’t have a library, the book mobile will come to your school and once every two weeks, you’d get a break from class to go look at what’s in the book mobile. The truck had been decommissioned years ago and then it was owned by a television station.
What can customers buy from the truck?
It’s a basic coffee shop menu. We’re looking to do something with a keg for cold brew, but it’ll be just like any of our coffee shops. We’ll have light baked goods. Lots of food trucks have miniature espresso machines, but we have a full-sized espresso machine, so we’ll be able to work at the exact same pace as we do in any of our shops.
Are there any long-term plans where the truck can be found?
We’re going to start doing things to see what ultimately ends up being successful. The idea is twofold: to service the food truck areas — we have a customer base downtown from our CAC location, so it makes sense to stick near Fountain Square’s food truck space. Weekdays we’ll be there and also at Washington Park on nice days.
Weekends, it’s not just a mobile vending thing, it’s an opportunity for us to get in front of people we’re not normally in front of. If there’s a neighborhood that might warrant opening a Collective Espresso in it, this is a great way to go there, meet people and test market the business. We’d like to be in various different neighborhoods on the weekends: Walnut Hills, College Hill, maybe somewhere on the West Side. New people. Special events are also a given. We’ll see as it goes along.
Going mobile, what’s the truck’s maximum radius going to be?
If there was a big event, we could take it far out of town, but it’s an ’82 — an older piece of equipment. I don’t think it’s going to be taking trips to Louisville every weekend. We kind of exist in these little bubbles where everybody knows what Collective Espresso is, but then I go to some big event in town and realize there are all of these people out there who still have no idea. There are even people in OTR who ask when we opened and it’s weird to tell them almost five years ago. I think that the truck gets rid of that limiting factor of having to be in these little, obscure up-and-coming neighborhood situations. There’s nothing wrong with a bunch of people knowing what we do.
To keep up with the coffee truck, follow @collective_field_services on Instagram.