Students Annika Klingenberg (24, arts, culture and media) and Henry Daniels (24, law) proudly stand next to the van they turned into a coffee shop. The sun is shining down on their classic Peugeot J7, which looks recently painted a lovely dove blue. But appearances are deceiving; the van looked like this when they bought it.
The van may look nice, but its inner workings aren’t entirely up to date. Annika and Henry have taken it to the shop to be repaired. Again. This time, the ceiling lights need replacing, they’re creating some storage above the driver’s seat, and installing a magazine rack.
Annika and Henry met at coffee shop MASMAS and became friends. After working there for eighteen months, Annika wanted to start her own business. ‘My own place where I could meet people.’ Henry ran his own sailing company in his home of Cape Town and had been looking for a new project since coming to the Netherlands a year ago. ‘Coffee seemed like a good idea. I don’t think the market for speciality coffee is saturated yet’, he says.
Annika’s previous experience helped them make the final decision, and together they created a more concrete plan for their own business.
Starting the actual business wasn’t even that much of a challenge: Annika knew quite a bit about running a business thanks to her father, who owns his own bakery in Germany. She knew all about how to take care of finances, how to best present a product to customers, how to advertise your company. One thing they still needed, though, was a location. That proved a little harder to find.
Last March, a friend tipped them off about a van for sale in Amsterdam. It had previously been used at food festivals to sell crêpes.
The seller said it would go up to seventy kilometres per hour
‘It started out as a joke’, says Annika, giggling. ‘I actually took it pretty seriously’, Henry responds. Whatever it was, they decided to go to Amsterdam to take the van for a test drive.
‘The van looked great and there were no issues during the test drive’, says Henry. ‘I had a week to think about it, because the owners were moving to France.’ With a sigh, he adds: ‘If only I’d know the guy was full of shit.’
As soon as they’d taken care of insurance and the technical inspection, Henry and Annika drove their brand-new acquisition from Amsterdam to Groningen.
‘That’s when we realised why the test drive had been so short. The van just stalled out after thirty minutes’, says Henry, frustrated. ‘The seller said it could go seventy kilometres an hour, but we didn’t even get close.’ There they were, stranded on the side of the highway.
After a while, the ANWB was able to get them going again. Sort of. Henry: ‘The car was messed up. We could only do forty an hour, on the highway. Every single car honked at us.’
Once back in the north, all the work the van needed cost Annika and Henry a total three thousand euros. The seller had said that they probably wouldn’t have to spend more than two hundred, including the inspection. ‘Maybe he just didn’t know any better’, says Annika. ‘I’d like to believe people are inherently good.’ But Henry doesn’t. ‘I believe in people’s endless potential to be evil’, he says, laughing sourly.
It’s always making a weird noise, and it’s a different one each time
The drive from Amsterdam to Groningen wasn’t the first time the van caused problems: they’ve had to get it fixed dozens of times since they bought it. ‘I think it’s given me a phobia of cars’, says Annika. ‘It’s always making a weird noise.’ The noise is a different one each time, according to Henry. ‘That van has a personality of its own.’
Even though they think the van will only give them more trouble in the future, they’ve made peace with it. It’s part of the challenge.
Designing the interior of the van was much easier with the help of Chiara, owner of the repair shop where the van is parked today. In the meantime, two friends designed the logo for the coffee van, Revista Coffee. ‘We’re doing everything with the help of friends. That’s what’s so great about the community in Groningen’, says Annika.
While the van isn’t completely finished yet, the duo has snagged a permanent spot next to the Herebrug. One advantage is that the boat rental companies on the canal give them free water. ‘It’s a good spot’, says Henry. ‘And we can renew our rental contract exclusively for the next fifteen years.’
‘At first we wanted a spot on the market’, says Annika, ‘but this is more flexible, timewise, and we have a lot more freedom in how we use the space. It’s also a lot cheaper than a real coffee bar. Those are impossible.’
Revista has a diverse set of customers, ranging from students and professors to people on their way to work and new mothers who are taking their baby outside for the first time, says Henry.
The beautiful Peugeot J7 certainly draws the eye, but customers come for the good coffee. The student entrepreneurs emphasise that their priority is on serving good coffee, made from high-quality beans. Annika says their coffee tastes just a bit fruitier than a dark roast.
If you’re willing to sacrifice your social life, it’s possible
How do they combine owning a coffee van with being full-time students? Annika and Henry laugh. ‘You go first’, says Henry. Annika: ‘I only have one course this semester, so it’s pretty easy for me.’
It’s a little more difficult for Henry. ‘I’m also the chair at my study association, and I’m doing Honours College. I’m also still running my company in Cape Town. But there are a lot more hours in the day than people might think, so if you’re willing to sacrifice a social life and make sure you get enough sleep, it’s possible.’
But sleep is the thing the students have lost the most over the past few months, they say with a sigh. Was it worth it? ‘Absolutely’, says Henry immediately. ‘The technical challenges weren’t really my speed, but I’m always up for creative ones. It’s far from torture. Our customers have been really positive, and that’s what makes it so much fun.’