Denver's newest cafe on wheels, the Green Bus Cafe, will hit the streets beginning Saturday, February 20. After months of hard work by owner Dustin Croniser to outfit a 1976 Volkswagen microbus, he's ready to start serving up vegan drinks and food around Denver.
Croniser's take on a food truck started as a side project to his full-time career as a traveling A/V technician for live events. "I’ve always been attracted to food," he says. "I love to cook and had an affinity for VW buses; they're nostalgic to me."
Croniser purchased the bus in North Carolina in February 2020 and immediately got to work turning it into a mobile cafe with an entirely plant-based menu. He named his project the Green Bus Cafe because of the plant-based menu and because the VW uses alternative fuel. Combine that with the bus's original bright-green paint job, and the Green Bus Cafe practically named itself.
After Croniser lost his job because of COVID-19 restrictions on live music events, he devoted his energy full-time to the bus, spending the summer working on it in his driveway. Although he had never done plumbing or laid floors, Croniser figured it out with the help of van-life blogs and YouTube videos. "The whole idea has just been to DIY this, because there’s a lot of growth in doing things yourself," he explains. "I built the plumbing system, so if something happens, I know how to fix it. If something happens to the engine, I read the manual and look online and try to fix it myself. There’s power in knowing how to fix something; it's a lot more work, but I think it’s way worth spending time now to save time later."
In keeping with the green theme, Croniser wanted to convert the engine to something other than standard gasoline. Originally he considered powering the bus with batteries, but the expense outweighed the positives. He also looked into solar energy, but it doesn't generate enough power to run a motor vehicle. Finally, he settled on liquified petroleum gas (LPG), but had to add a second trailer to haul the equipment. Despite the added weight, Croniser says the cafe rides nicely around town.
In addition to the hands-on challenges, he also faced challenges when dealing with the DMV and health and fire departments, all slowed and complicated by the pandemic. The late-fall launch he planned was repeatedly postponed, but as of Friday, February 12, the Green Bus had passed all of its inspections and was ready to roll.
Before the pandemic, Croniser had taken a part-time job at the Molecule Effect to gain barista experience, but he worked just one day before statewide closings canceled his next scheduled shift, making his first day his last.
Ultimately, he found that the pandemic had accelerated his ability to focus on the van full-time. "I had just bought the bus right before the whole global pandemic situation and was already thinking about transitioning out of my job," he recalls. "For me, in my specific circumstances right now, this is the time to focus on this dream business that I’ve wanted to do for so long. It's weird, but it seemed like a sign."
In addition to building out the bus, Croniser designed the menu. His philosophy was simple, he says: "With it being mobile, it’s better to have fewer items but make those items really good."
The main offerings include coffee staples like lattes, cappuccinos and flat whites, all made with non-dairy milk and coffee roasted by MORU, which developed a signature coffee for Croniser — the Green Bus Blend — and bagged it in compostable packaging. Croniser also created several signature superfood lattes, including the Spicy Chocolate Gold, made with maca powder, cinnamon, vanilla, raw cacao and coconut sugar. Other drinks include golden milk, chai and matcha tea. The "lattes" are caffeine-free and ready to drink even without coffee, but you can add espresso to make them more traditional.
The plant-based menu features several food items as well, like a breakfast sandwich that comes on a gluten-free pancake bun (pressed with cute animal faces) with marinated egg-like tofu, smoky tempeh bacon and vegan cheese, served with a side of maple syrup dipping sauce.
The Green Bus's first official day on the streets will be Saturday, February 20, outside Modern Nomad, at 2936 Larimer Street. After that, the bus will be there every Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Beginning Sunday, February 21, the GBC will join the Easy Vegan crew for a weekly pop-up at Asbury Provisions, 2043 South University Boulevard. Croniser will supply the coffee to complement the vegan brunch items made by Easy Vegan and cocktails from Asbury.
After a year of work, Croniser is ready for the next chapter. "I’m incredibly excited; I feel like that moment when you’re strapped into a roller coaster and you stop at the top — like, oh my God, what did I get myself into?" he says. "But it's also exciting. I’m looking forward to what’s to come and everything that I’m doing. The GBC is really aligned with my journey and what I’m supposed to be doing. It's been an overwhelming and humbling experience. On the other end of it, I’ll know that I put in the blood, sweat and tears."
Follow the Green Bus Cafe on Instagram for regular updates on location, times, and menu.
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