On a bright clear morning in September the call of morning coffee is as strong as the sunlight that powers the technology that brews it. It brings people from all over Lake Mills to a parking lot on the north side of town.
“It’s caramel frappe for Stephanie,” says Lisa Huber, barista and co-owner of Coffee Van Go, as her customer walks up to the window. She knows her customer’s orders and she doesn’t forget. She’s known some of them for years having worked at Waterhouse Foods in Lake Mills until it’s closing this year.
It might look like a beautifully decorated food truck, parked at the Lake Mills Market, but the Coffee Van Go is actually a solar powered beverage mobile.
A coffee truck is untraditional in this area and a solar powered one is unheard of. Huber and co-owner Mary Miller set out last April to create something unique.
When Huber, who has a background in art and the restaurant industry, learned Waterhouse Foods, where she worked serving up coffee, was set to close her and Miller decided to find a way to fill the coffee void.
“I didn’t want the risk of a brick and mortar. There are too many things you can’t control in that environment,” Huber said.
The low risk and low overhead option of the coffee van seemed like the best option.
“I wanted to do this because I’m getting out of medicine,” Miller commented.
“We are looking for a way to coast into retirement and have a little more flexibility in our schedules,” Huber said.
Food trucks are increasing in popularity, but the business partners say there are no beverage trucks.
“We thought this would be new in this area,” Huber said.
One of their biggest advantages is the silence they bring with their business, because they are solar powered they don’t have the need of a generator.
“We did a wedding recently at Bennett Barn (rural Watertown) and they loved us,” Miller said. “They could hear their music.”
They are as friendly to the environment as they can possibly be.
“The fact that we have solar is amazing,” Huber said. “There is nothing on this ship that isn’t Earth friendly.”
“We are pushing the technology. You don’t see food trucks with solar panels,” Miller said.
Drew Fair of Lake Mills has been the mastermind behind the solar van.
“He has experience in this doing it on planes,” Miller said. “It’s amazing how he can find the pieces we need. He’s never failed us.”
The Coffee Van Go will be parked at the Lake Mills Market Monday-Friday. The women wanted a regular place for commuters to find them during the week. They also plan to do special events. The business is licensed for Jefferson County and next season will look at other locations.
“This is what business is now. Business is mobile,” Miller said.
They’ve been working on getting the coffee van on the road since September 2018 and less than a year later they opened Aug. 29.
The local business partners started as acquittances and have turned into great partners.
“This is Lisa’s forte, but I’m learning,” Miller said of the coffee side of things. “I did a lot of the legal and accounting stuff.”
The women are grateful for their former Waterhouse customers who have been finding them at the Market and to Mitch Eveland of Lake Mills Market and Gary Gundlach the property owner who have allowed them to park their van there.
“The community and business support we’ve received has been amazing,” Miller said. “The excitement, it just feeds you.”
Customers have been sticking around, chatting and enjoying the experience of getting coffee.
“More people sit out here and chat than they ever did at Waterhouse,” Huber said.
“We weren’t sure how people would react to getting out of their cars and standing in the weather,” Miller said.
They aren’t sure what winter will look like for them.
“The equipment will keep us warm and we can run a space heater if we need to,” Miller said.
The proprietors of Coffee Van Go say they don’t just offer coffee. They have hot chocolate, tea, smoothies, lemonade and healthy treats.
“Everything here is made with sunshine,” they said.
Their spot at the Market is an ideal for traffic, but they might be at a different location in the future.
“As a new business we are looking for feedback and direction and we can move where we need to move.”
The women thanked their families for the help and support.
“They’ve supported our dreams,” Huber said.
“I want this to thrive,” she said of the business. “I think we’ve earned it.”