Equal Exchange finds a new way to sell its Joe on the go

Caffeine Kickstand
By LIZ PELLY  |  June 1, 2012

COFFEE ON WHEELS Food trucks? That's so early 2012. From now on, all our mobile restaurants will
be human-powered.

For mid-afternoon ice-coffee pick-me-ups this summer, Bostonians frequenting the Rose Kennedy Greenway, Copley Square, and Charles Street/Massachusetts General Hospital neighborhoods need not head to Starbucks. Instead, they can look for mini-cafés on wheels, carted around by local coffee company Equal Exchange — on oversize tricycles.

Equal Exchange started as a coffee company in Boston in 1986, focused on sustainability and community building, emphasizing fair trade and small farmer co-ops. The company has since grown to also sell tea, chocolate, bananas, and olive oil, all with a common goal to help create a more sustainable food system.

So it makes sense that a company who so strongly emphasizes the environment would choose the most sustainable means of transportation when the company decided to go mobile. Rather than playing into the food-truck trend that has swept the nation in recent years, Equal Exchange embraces the greener way of shuffling their coffee around Boston: by coffee bike.

Coffee bikes have been hitting the streets throughout the country for years now, as part of an evolving cargo-bike movement, one that is resonating particularly strongly with the coffee community. In Brooklyn, there's Kickstand Brooklyn; in Austin, there's the Good Bike. Portland, Oregon, has at least three different coffee bikes, including Café Velo.


Meghan Hubbs, the café developer for Equal Exchange, came up with the idea for her bike — the Equal Exchange "Free Range Café" — and started developing a business plan in January 2010. A few months later, she reached out to Metro Pedal Power, a company in Somerville who specializes in making these sorts of bicycles. By January 2011, two Equal Exchange coffee trikes — "Big Red" and "Brown Bess" — were on the road.

Wenzday Jane, the founder and owner of Metro Pedal Power, said that several local businesses, including Taza Chocolate and Redbones, have been using cargo bikes as "part of their fleet" for years. The company runs other services — such as Soil Cycle, a compost pick-up service that uses bike carts to deliver CSA shares from local farms — and has a bicycle-powered recycling-hauling program with the city of Cambridge.

Jane says bikes are ideal for local businesses looking to create satellite mobile shops, because the costs are so much lower than a traditional commercial vehicle, which brings with it with DMV registrations, state taxes and fees, insurance, parking, and other complications. "A lot of those are alleviated with a bike," she says.

Boston is an ideal location for businesses to be incorporating bikes into their "fleets" because it is small in square miles and densely populated, says Jane. "It's really a terrible pain in the ass to drive around in a car here. It's not always a picnic on a bike, either, but at least to me it's much less frustrating to be on the roads in Boston on a bike than it is in a car."

Plus, the city is becoming more and more bike friendly in recent years. Jane says she's seen bike culture expand here — especially for purposes like commuting, grocery shopping, and other activities that require small hauling: "I've seen more individuals with bikes that are utilitarian with racks and baskets. The culture is definitely evolving here in Boston. And it's the kind of thing that grows exponentially once there are more people on the road biking."

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