While the COVID-19 pandemic has left many coffee shops struggling to adapt to new norms, the DNVR Coffee Company is thriving. Maybe that's because nothing was ever normal for Blake Eatherton, who has been selling coffee from his bicycle-powered mobile coffee cart as a side hustle since April 2019.
An Aurora native, Eatherton studied geology at Western Colorado University in Gunnison, then returned to the Front Range in 2017 to take a job with an oil and gas company. He saw the coffee cart as a smart way to invest his money without acquiring much debt. After a lot of research, he purchased a cart from a company in Romania that typically builds for European vendors, so he needed to customize his rig to conform to Denver health and safety regulations. "When it got here, there was still a lot lost in translation, so I had to gut the plumbing and electrical and install a hot-water heater for hand washing," the cart owner notes.
After some tinkering, Eatherton was off and rolling, with the help of Copper Door Coffee. A mutually beneficial arrangement allows Eatherton to store his bike and cart at Copper Door's cafe and roastery at 900 West First Avenue, as long as he uses the company's beans. He even got to practice behind the bar at Copper Door before he hit the streets.
At first Eatherton only operated the cart around his day job, but that changed in March, when he found himself unemployed because of the coronavirus pandemic. "I took lemons and turned them into coffee, except it's not really bitter to leave such a toxic industry," he states.
Now he's a full-time coffee cart operator. "It was a fit for the new normal," he adds. "It wasn't planned...but it was well placed in the age of COVID. If COVID hadn't happened and I hadn't had this company ready when it did happen, it would not have taken off to where it is."
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Because the cart is mobile and outdoors, health and safety precautions and social distancing rules were easy to adapt to. Eatherton quickly added online ordering for more contactless service, and he requires all customers to wear masks. At the beginning of the pandemic, he focused on setting up outside large apartment complexes where many tenants were working from home. Now that people are slowly getting back to work, he's chosen a spot near the playground at Washington Park as one of his favorite sites.
Eatherton has been able to hire four additional employees starting out at $15 an hour, because he feels that's a livable wage. "I'm big on workers' rights and labor rights, and coffee is an industry where lots of people are exploited on all ends of the process — from farming down to baristas," he says. "So what I am able to do is get my coffee from someone who is paying an appropriate price for it and pay my baristas an appropriate wage."
Because business has been good, Eatherton has purchased a second cart, which he hopes to have licensed for private bookings by mid-August. Ultimately, he's grateful for the success that has allowed him to leave the oil and gas field behind and pursue his passion. "I really missed face-to-face interactions with people," he explains. "Now I get to talk to people every day instead of talking to rocks. It's hella fun."
Find out where to fuel up on DNVR Coffee Co. drinks on the cart's weekly schedule online.