Coffee à la cart

Street talk
By NACY ROSENBAUM  |  May 18, 2007

Portlanders don’t play when it comes to getting our daily java fix. And now we have one more option for getting caffeinated.

West End artist Jason Weinberg just launched Excellent Drinks, a propane- and generator-powered espresso and smoothie bar on wheels. From now until Columbus Day, you’ll find his cheerful orange-canopied cart planted along Exchange Street near Tommy’s Park most weekdays.

While mobile coffee bars have made appearances in bigger cities like New York and Seattle, Excellent Drinks is the first to crack the Portland market. And with an estimated eight pushcart vendors downtown who mostly trade in lunchtime gyro and frankurter fare, Excellent Drinks is a fresh-faced newcomer with a unique product to sell. Weinberg is currently the only push cart purveyor in Portland who can whip up a macchiato al fresco. He sources his organic, fair-trade beans from the Freaky Bean Coffee Company, an up-and-coming roastery and coffee shop in Scarborough.

Weinberg is thrilled to be his own boss again. Back in the early 1990s, he launched an earlier version of Excellent Drinks along the Causeway in Naples, Maine, where he hawked smoothies to passers-by traveling to and from Sebago Lake. But the concept of a “smoothie” had not yet blown up in Maine; Weinberg, who had lived in Berkeley, California, in his 20s, was apparently ahead of the specialty beverage curve.

His fortunes changed when he met a party promoter who connected him to the rave circuit. Soon he was touring around New England, selling “smart drinks” (juice blends mixed with energy-pumping vitamins and amino acids) to rave revelers.

For years he had a blast running his business. But then Weinberg got older and became a husband and dad. The rave culture was changing too. He realized that the party lifestyle had become “inappropriate” for his circumstances.

So he did the adult thing and got a stable job, what ended up as an eight-and-a-half-year gig at a Starbucks in Westbrook. “I thought I was a lifer at Starbucks,” says Weinberg. “But things happen and it was time to move on.” Now he’s planted his pint-sized push cart within gazing distance of the Starbucks on Lower Exchange. When asked how he plans to compete with the coffee titan, as well as with other beloved coffee spots in town, he says, “I don’t think you really can compete. You just have to do what you do and attract people to you.”

Already locals have started to take notice. Last Thursday afternoon, customers of all stripes started to cluster around Weinberg’s cart to check out his handwritten menu. A bald UPS deliveryman with bulging biceps ordered a small Colombian blend for $1.25. Between sips, he explained that it’s important to him to support smaller businesses. A woman named Cindy, who works down the street at Bliss agreed. “Yeah, you’ve gotta help the locals...it’s good for the community.”

“Your coffee’s great, by the way,” she said, before walking away with her iced skim latte.

  Topics: This Just In , Culture and Lifestyle, Beverages, Food and Cooking,  More more >
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