“A business lives and dies by its location.”
Adam Temple was leaning out the window of his food truck, Blackbeard Espresso, as he shared this bit of business acumen with me. His partner and lifelong friend Stephen Young was right behind him in the truck, pulling shots of espresso for an Americano.
Last October, Temple and Young found themselves in a situation familiar to many Americans in tough economic times. They got laid off. Both are quick to defend their former employer, Discover Home Loans, saying they were treated fairly, pointing out generous severance packages, which gave some cushion as they planned their next steps. Finding themselves at a crossroads, they decided not to look for work in another corporate setting or bank. They seized the opportunity for a new start, betting the severance money on themselves and becoming their own bosses.
Temple’s love for the bean was prime motivator in the decision to get in the coffee game. He felt he could turn that love into a solid business plan. Young loves coffee, too, but he’s more interested in the “spirit of entrepreneurship.”
The first big challenge was the quest for a great location. Louisville has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to high-quality, locally roasted java. Louisville coffee lovers can choose between Sunergos, Quills, Java Brewing Co., Argo Sons, and Red Hot Roasters. Please and Thank You has great locally roasted coffee and award-winning cookies. Then there’s Gralehaus, a new spot that imports artisan coffee from Chicago’s Inteligensia, and of course Heine Bros.’ has a plethora of local stores.
Louisville has it’s fair share of Starbucks, too, and while a locavore like myself might ignore them, it would be foolish for a new coffee shop to open without taking their multitude of locations into account.
A business lives and dies by location, and rent can be the biggest expense. So what are a couple of young go-getters to do?
Young and Temple found the answer that a number of motivated Louisville entrepreneurs have found. They went the truck route.
A food truck is a relatively cheap way to go into business. Not having a fixed location “keeps our monthly expenses down. Makes it possible for two guys to earn a living,” says Temple. It also allows owners to maximize their profits by finding high points of sale, and going directly to them.
Temple and Young spent the first months of our particularly frigid winter prepping their truck and getting it ready. They bought a used espresso machine on Craigslist. That presented a unique challenge: “The espresso machine draws 3,500 watts,” says Temple. The duo had to “bite the bullet” and buy a huge Honda generator, which presented another hurdle; the generator creates sounds in excess of 70 decibels. So they built a sound-dampening cabinet. It sits out back of the truck when it’s in operation, and quite frankly, it’s adorable.
When it came time to pick their coffee they knew they wanted to go local. They chose local roasters Sunergos coffee. “They are precise, they care about what they are doing,” says Temple. While Temple was a passionate coffee drinker with a refined palette, neither he nor Young had any hands-on experience in the field, so Sunergos also provided training, sharing their expertise in the form of award-winning latte artist and longtime employee Kenny Smith.
Young and Temple must be quick learners. The Americano they served me had a great flavor profile, and it hit my tongue in all the right places. The crema was nice and thick with oil and solids. Even better, as we talked I asked so many questions that my drink got cold. It was still tasty at room temperature, a sure sign that it had been made well. Lesser Americano’s become horribly bitter when they cool off.
Blackbeard has a relatively simple menu featuring espresso drinks like lattes, mochas, espressos, and cappuccinos. There is always a fresh pot of Sunergos coffee brewed. Expect cold and frozen drinks to slowly join the menu as the weather heats up and the truck builds a steady clientele.
The food menu is still growing, too. I sampled an Uncle Joe’s cinnamon roll. The pastry was microwaved, which didn’t thrill me, but the quality—including the tasty icing—was mostly able to overcome the less-than-ideal reheating process.
The plan is to run the truck year-round, because according to Temple, “If it’s cold, you still want coffee.” When asked about the potential for future polar vortexes, Temple admits, “It can only be so cold.”
With more warm days on the horizon, Blackbeard is building up its regulars. You can often find them doing business on Jefferson Street in front of the courthouse or serving it up at Humana near the waterfront. The social media savvy can friend them on Facebook for up-to-date schedules on when and where they will be serving.