A cafe on wheels puts a whole new spin on Starbucks coffee - News @ Northeastern
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A cafe on wheels puts a whole new spin on Starbucks coffee

Hundreds of students walked through Snell Quad on a Thursday afternoon in mid-September, a familiar scene at one of the most bustling locations on Northeastern’s Boston campus. Some attended a sustainability fair to buy energy-efficient lights or learn about bike safety. Others dashed off to class or to the Curry Student Center for lunch. Robert Phillips just wanted some coffee.

As Phillips walked across the quad toward the Starbucks located in the student center, he paused to investigate something unfamiliar: a bike equipped with a coffee station and green Starbucks umbrella. Moments later, he was ordering a Nitro Cold Brew from the mobile coffee shop, which was set up in the middle of the quad, rather than waiting in line at the indoor Starbucks.

“This just made my afternoon,” said Phillips, who is a doctoral student in civil engineering.

Northeastern Dining rolled out its new Starbucks bike this fall. The bike serves 16-ounce cups of Nitro Cold Brew coffee for $4.99. It holds nine gallons of Nitro Cold Brew (three 3-gallon kegs), which is infused with nitrogen as it pours out of the tap, giving the coffee a thick, foamy top.

Dining officials said the bike is usually out on campus three days a week in places such as Snell, Centennial, and Krentzman quads. The goal is to extend the campus’s Starbucks service beyond the storefront and provide another convenient place for students, faculty, and staff on-the-go to get their cups of nitro joe.

The campus coffee bike has Northeastern roots. It was built by Coaster Cycles, a company founded by 2005 graduate Ben Morris. Morris said Starbucks has already purchased 30 bikes this year for its various locations nationwide. One of them happened to be Northeastern.

The Starbucks bike was built by Coaster Cycles, a company founded by Northeastern graduate Ben Morris. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Morris started Coaster Cycles in the fall of 2004, while he was a student at Northeastern. He had just returned to Boston from working a co-op job as a Navy technician in San Diego, where he saw a growing market for pedicabs in the city’s Gaslamp district.

Morris started the company first as a pedicab service in Boston, operating with five bikes. It has since evolved, and changed names, over the years. Coaster Cycles now manufactures and sells a range of three-wheeled, pedal-powered vehicles such as pedicabs, cargo bikes, billboard bikes, coffee bikes, and promotional bikes. It also has a media and marketing division that specializes in advertising on pedicabs, and it owns and operates pedicabs in cities such as Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

Coaster Cycles builds its bikes at a manufacturing facility in Missoula, Montana. The company has sold its vehicles in the United States and abroad, including in Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, and New Zealand. It has built a cargo bike for UPS, ice cream bikes for Kampgrounds of America, and custom promotional bikes for Converse, Corona, and Blue Moon.

Morris said Coaster Cycles, in response to the growth in bike-share programs, also builds bikes equipped with flatbeds that bike-share operators can use to pick up and tow away vehicles that need to be moved or repaired. The company also builds vehicles equipped with the tools necessary for mechanics to fix bikes out in the field, rather than having to haul them into the shop.

Morris said companies are increasingly looking for ways to use bikes and trikes to meet their business needs, whether it be to deliver goods or sell food and beverages. Coaster Cycles, he said, is now focused on raising more capital in order to expand its manufacturing capability.

He said the factors driving the increased demand include the massive growth of e-commerce in recent years as well as stricter emissions standards expected to take hold in the future, which have businesses rethinking how they move their products.

“We’re basically positioning ourselves to majors brands as the go-to source for commercial-grade bikes and trikes for business applications,” said Morris. “We recognize a large opportunity there, and we’re positioning ourselves to take advantage of that opportunity.”

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