Opening a new business in the midst of a global pandemic might seem like a disaster waiting to happen. But for one coffee drive-thru, it's been an unmitigated success.
Exit 11 Coffee, which already had a coffeehouse and coworking space plus a drive-thru coffee trailer in Washington, Missouri, opened up its second drive-thru trailer on March 13 in Union, Missouri. Social distancing measures began just days later, and Missouri's stay-at-home order officially went into effect on April 6. Exit 11 had to shut the doors to its coffeehouse, and owners Angela and Scott Garland considered doing carryout and curbside from that location, but they soon realized that they didn't need to. Just down the block was Exit 11's first coffee trailer, which would turn out to be an ideal business model given the obstacles related to the pandemic.
Not only is the trailer designed for drive-thru service, but it also uses Square, where customers insert their own card directly into the payment system and no cards have to be exchanged between customer and employees. With a few adjustments, such as limiting employees to comply with the stay-at-home order, both coffee trailers were able to operate. And as to-go coffee options in town are limited (aside from a currently closed Starbucks inside a Target), business ramped up. Angela says the new Union location is seeing more than 100 cars per day despite being open just over a month, and the Washington location sees closer to 300 cars per day.
"We've added probably 1,200 new customers in the last 30 days," she says.
The trailers are semi-permanent structures, meaning that they are not easily moved like a food truck because of connections to power and water, but both the need to be located in a parking lot and the similarities to a food truck has caused problems in trying to expand to other nearby towns, as older city codes often prohibit such things.
But Angela is holding out hope that the want for distancing, even when this is over, will help people be more open-minded about the semi-permanent trailer concept. She says that they are considering franchising, but to do that, they need to show that they can remain successful, especially in smaller towns similar to Union and Washington. Plus, they provide a quality cup of coffee with beans they are proud of, and customers get to interact with a barista face-to-face instead of a box like typical drive-thrus, which Angela says adds to the experience.
"We need to continue to prove the model," she says. "This pushed us to say that this little 16-foot trailer is able to do the volume that it's doing."
Exit 11 Coffee, multiple locations, exit-11.com