1. From Wire to Road

Originating from a late summer night’s dream (literally) of grafting our own pennies from the upcoming winter season, an epiphany was born. We would convert an old van and tour Europe’s most highly acclaimed Alpine resorts. Thus bringing a cup of proper freshly-roasted coffee to seasonnaires, holiday makers and festival go-ers all struggling in lieu of their Ethiopian home brews and Third Wave Coffee Movement updates.

The Idea.


Spotted: the Malcesine – Monte Baldo game changer

A few evenings later, whilst walking off another bottle of limoncello on Lake Garda’s shores, we found a rather out-of-place looking old gondola lift. Next thing we know a handshake had replaced the van with an old ski gondola…

And so, summer fun over, the hunt to locate and buy said ski gondola began enthusiastically, at first. But having exhausted Europe’s ski resort’s from the refines of the kitchen table it became apparent the search must be expanded… Then lo and behold – with the weight of the rest of the world’s ski resorts upon our shoulders – spontaneity led us to Whistler Blackcomb’s Village paper: the last remaining cabins from the recently replaced, iconic Canadian gondola had been saved from demolition and were to be won in auction by 11 lucky gondola-fanatics!

The bidding was tense and the conversion rate a headache, especially at 5am, but we risked everything and ended up one of the blessed few in possession of an original 1988 Poma gondola.

Having claimed our prize, we willfully passed the headaches (and a painful shipping fee) over to our Canadian friends to organize the packaging, crating and safe carriage of our 73″ x 73″ bubble across Canada and the Atlantic. Possibly the furthest route a gondola has ever taken!

As plans developed we realised our precious package was still some weeks away from riding it’s first British waves, so settled down to master-mining the gondola’s future; time-frames shifted, business plans were re-written, cash flows scrutinized, generators discovered, temperature effects on coffee machines researched… The list is endless and in hindsight, proved the result of some absolutely invaluable ‘down time’. The festive season came and went with yet more days of postponing as we watched our little sea-freight tracker crawl across the laptop screen.. then one grey January day Santa finally arrived.

Along with our highly reputable port to door courier service (Dad), we made our way to Purfleet’s expansive trucker and shipping zone. Sticking out like a sore thumb we were however, amusingly treated like any other long-haul lorry swinging by to pick up 20 tonnes of shipping container. Donning our best lorry-driver persona we wandered the warehouses and finally spotted our package cowering among the containers. All that now remained was to devise it’s most law-abiding possible passage back to Dorset; towed on a plant trailer by the family Skoda, starting with the M25…

2. Let’s Get Rolling

Un-wrapping a horizontal, 500kg gondola – whose packaging is designed to withstand an Atlantic crossing – is not an easy procedure.

Having dashed initial hopes of preserving our ply-wood outer box (new garage, garden shed, oversized dog kennel plans fading rapidly…..) and with the help of some heavy-duty farm yard equipment, we managed to hack, hoist and shred our way to the prize.

As the gondola revealed its splendors we nipped around happily taking measurements to confirm that; yes it would be feasible to fit two people and a coffee machine within it’s Perspex walls.


With ego’s running high, we set about devising the gondola’s  mobility plan and scoured eBay’s range of second hand caravans, horseboxes and plant trailers in hope of a gem that we could rip the top off of – unsurprisingly, the list was short. Those that did manage the bare minimum of  towing requirement, had more or less rusted to nothing and would incur near on the cost of a new trailer to become usable.

The next maneuver was upon us before we knew it; mounting the gondola smack bang in the middle of our brand new Ifor Williams 10ft flatbed trailer – not easy to lift and lower a half ton of swinging fiberglass onto chalk-etched dots on a trailer bed! However, after a morning of fiddly measurements and more forklift aid, its feet were securely fixed. #84 was mobile again! And not on a wire this time.

Phew. Nothing hiding inside
Thanks to our on-site forklifting experts

Our gondola-trailer layout was generally based on the most eye appeasing arrangement that we could manage for the unlikely duo. However, we did try to keep an efficient coffee service layout in mind and – through maintaining as much of the originality as possible – we decided we would upturn the sliding door windows to serve out of, from the side of the trailer and over the wheels.

In our minds, the actual ‘serving of the coffee’ bit was beginning to span out nicely, but there was a serious hitch developing: the lack of space to store the supplies of our mobile café, which through experience usually take up double that of what you’ve planned for! Factoring this along with the expanse of trailer bed still unused, it became obvious that our gondola must undergo some time under the knife to fill out its seat. We set about designing and manufacturing the extensions…

#84 enters a new lease of life

3. Stripping back to the basics

At around this point in the story we were beginning to realise there really was no turning back… Shipping a gondola to the UK to trial this wacky idea was fast becoming a pricey investment of materials, equipment, qualifications and expertise. Right before our eyes our own business was beginning to take shape and we were certainly in too deep to pull off a ghosty now…

And so we ploughed on with brainstorming sessions and the frighteningly swift demolition of various gondola innards. The more qualified steel engineers amoung us managed to deposit masses of unwanted steel frame-work and figure out the door mechanism: we are forever indebted to Giles and Ryan! Meanwhile Tom and I settled down to a finger nail – destroyer as we peeled off the existing vinyl wrap, inch by inch. GMC – it’s not that we wouldn’t proudly advertise your trucks as part of our new branding, but well…. I think the space lends itself to something a little more ‘mountain cafe’.

As the hours of scratching and scraping ticked by, our momentary delight in discovering our gondola’s true and original identity was instantly smothered. A substantial amount of rust and holes began to emerge and it was clear the fibre-glass shell needed some serious TLC!

​This wasn’t our only headache – as I mentioned before, our limited storage space was very apparent from the moment we opened our Canadian Christmas present – Giles and Ryan to the rescue again. Our fabulous steel-inclined friends down the road popped on a couple of adjoining boxes with ease, which – contrary to our initial fears – actually enhanced our bizarre aesthetics, and added an almost roomy feel to the foot-well!


Taking no notice of the slightly shabby appearance that our gondola was adopting (things must fall apart, before into place, right?) we celebrated the completion of such almighty steps. These initial hurdles – the cause of quarells and sleepless nights in times gone by – had now well and truly been conquered. It gave us great gusto for the next ‘design stage’… alongside which our confident minds began to broaden. Time to focus in on the world of coffee.

Storage space gets sized up
A lesson in sanding fibreglass
This ugly duckling has yet to swan

4. Entering the Coffee World

Still feeling like we were amidst some bizarre dream, we registered as a Limited Liability Partnership (following a Wikipedia crash course on business), and were delighted to find a whole new world opening doors to us. Soon our new company email address was being inundated with coffee-related adverts, upcoming events, magazine subscriptions and other general caffeine-based bumph. The keenest of new coffee geeks on the market, we of course lapped it all up and soon had some ‘industry’ days to attend in London’s trendy East End.  I remember thinking “this must be what it’s like enduring wedding fairs or going baby-clothes shopping…” surrounded by all sorts of daunting characters and over-smiling salesmen. Upon entering however, all premonitions were dashed as we were engulfed by an array of people from Columbia to Java, businesses from all corners of the coffee world and of course the divine smell wafting from a smorgasbord of freshly roasted coffee beans. 10 espresso tastings later we were totally swept up in it all.

The shows, tastings and talks were invaluable and are still helping us find products and learn what type of coffee business we want to be. Not to mention all the help and advice from our level-headed, topknot-less and generally far superior coffee guru and roaster – Giles, owner of Read’s Coffee some 3 miles down our sleepy Dorset lane. We’re pretty confident in starting out with his award winning Sumatra Bourbon Espresso, and as we gradually get to grips with our coffee taste buds we’re learning not only what we like, but what bean best suits which style of brewing or milk combination and most importantly of all, what our chilly mountain customers are going to come back for time after time. The bookshelf is slowly stacking up with the world’s first appearing books dedicated to the art of coffee – real coffee – and one day we’ll post a lengthy blog update, maybe even publish our own book with all the knowledge and coffee expertise that we (will) have taken on…

Learning the ropes first-hand as we practiced with Read’s converted horsebox at Dorset events

For now however, back to the matter in hand! Months were sailing past as we trundled along with our conversion, slowing to a halt here and there to swap to other jobs and fill up the piggy bank. As summer arrived we took the dry days’ opportunity to get some painting done – the gondola’s shabby appearance was starting to get a little embarrassing whilst we began mingling in our industry’s circles! Nothing that a good lick of artistic paintwork couldn’t solve …

Enter Pete: I found Pete Barber’s artwork online after word searches along the lines of ‘graffiti, professional, cool, mural, landscapes, abstract……’ you get the picture. And more importantly,  he got the picture upon receiving photos of our patchy gondola and a brief outline of mountain domination through artisan coffee. Pete’s casual enthusiasm and stunning portfolio over-rode the other contenders and soon we were file sharing imagery, branding styles, dreamy mountain photography and generally anything else that caught our eye. Soon we were waving goodbye to our baby after a head-turning journey up the M6 to drop it off in Pete’s neck of the woods.

A misty monochrome mountain range is decided on…
New coat for #84!

With the soon-to-be-gleaming exterior off our hands, we donned our interior design hats and set to work planning the re-birth of our gondola’s innards, transforming them from a quarter century’s worth of harboring Canada’s most heavy-footed and sweatiest mountain-regulars, into something a little more health-inspector friendly.

Lack of floor space………is made up for with a big L – shaped counter

5. Here Endeth the first Chapter

We had long ago decided that one of our greatest USP’s and basically the reason that the Coffee Gondola would maintain high levels of sales, would be it’s ability to sell coffee where nobody else could. Having devoted ourselves to this naive notion we were now having to fill it’s shoes however, and were quickly realising just why it really would be a unique feat … Mobile caterers simply were not found at the top of desolate mountains let alone cosy resort level, anywhere it seemed, in the world. Bar one exception that is, in a tiny resort, nestling under the semi-dormant Mount Yotei, in Japan’s most northern and wild island, Hokkaido.

Sadly, a business research trip back to our 2013 – 14 home – Niseko – was not feasible, but our memories of the village’s fleet of street-lined food trucks gave us courage (and reason to curse for planting our subconscious mobile mountain coffee seeds in the first place!). If Elvis could blast his tunes across the nightly-packed slopes whilst running a kebab machine; if the crazy little Thai man could manage to heat up his whole bus while you sat and waited in the passenger seat, for cooked-on-the-spot green curry; if – most importantly of all – the Australian flat white-obsessed immigrant could bash out cups from an espresso machine quick enough to keep up with the base-mountain lift queue – and all of them buried under a season’s 20 meter snowfall – then surely we could manage it in our gondola.

Brum-based, down to earth Fracino were our first point of call upon learning about their sturdy and reliable espresso machines. Recently quoted the ‘Land Rover’ of the coffee machine world, and with little else on the market in comparison, it was an easy decision to go for their Contempo LPG/Electric espresso machine. Yes, you read that correctly – our nifty new piece of kit can seamlessly change between a gas or electrical power supply, simply, with the flick of a switch. With propane’s very low freezing point we happily fitted out our gas chamber and hooked up the swanky new machine along with it’s partner in crime – a 20L Deluxe (more fancy switches and a thermostatic controller, ooohhh) Burco tea urn.

What a mess! Mid-installation as the machine’s insides get plugged in.
Elvis kept everyone going through the long nights on piste

The synergy between these two machines is vital for another gondola USP, in allowing us to keep up with the pace of the queue. The tea urn provides a second – and better quality – belly of fuel which feeds all tea and black coffee orders. So really, all the espresso machine has to worry about is pulling espresso shots and steaming milk, in turn, taking the stress off us constantly filling up the machine’s water tank from our all-stored-on-board containers. A swift and slick drinks production line – you saw it here first.

All things shiny! Take note of the beautifully re-furbed grinder next to the machine – a solid day’s work for Tom who now knows every nut and bolt inside it. “Get the grinder right and the rest will follow” so the saying goes …

Not so slick is our current bundle of blankets awaiting each nightfall and the deadly temperature drop … with the UK allowing us a softer opening we haven’t had to worry too much beyond simply tucking up our machine, water pump and piping at dusk. However, come December and an Alpine environment, we’re going to have to have something a little more reliable in place; freezing damage to the coffee machine could cost us the price of a week-long event on the continent. So it’s back to the drawing board with battery-powered fan heaters, custom-made electric blankets and cold-resistant pipework all springing to mind.

Less of a head-ache, we were delighted to pass everything electrics-related into the capable hands of locally-based sparkies who have done a sterling job. With their certificates and PAT testing (yes – our bashed up Ebay-bought grinder is now legal!) we can flaunt our appliances to any Health & Safety officer who comes our way. With low voltage spotlights, sockets at every level and a silenced generator nestling next to it’s gassy neighbour, #84 now resembles a giant light bulb at 20ft in the dark. Better keep those windows clean…

You’re probably wondering what on earth else could be squeezed into our bubble? Correct – we are very low on space and have had to do some substantial systems planning and endless “drinks production under pressure” role-plays. Which brings me more or less up to date as I sit here after another long day, today involving some serious storage solutions. If I say so myself, The Coffee Gondola’s interior ergonomics are enough to turn the head of B&Q’s head home D.I.Y. manager. Our hand rail is now clad with perfectly selected hanging bathroom solutions; our home-made dog-bowl sink is expertly plumbed in, drawing minimal juice from the coffee pump to have a running tap and waste pipe, just hidden from the curious customer’s gaze; our window suction-bound IPad is set up in POS mode next to our makeshift docket collector, all ready to silently pass orders between cashier and barista …

But I mustn’t give the whole game away – very soon folks, you’ll be able to witness this all first hand! Our official launch at the Telegraph Ski & Snowboard Show in Battersea, London is only a couple of days away and we CANNOT WAIT to finally be selling some coffees and showing all you very patient friends what’s really been going on behind the facade of artisan coffee chatter and gondola jabbering.

The show is hoping for over 35 thousand visitors throughout it’s 4 days of live music, big air comps, alpine food tastings and ski-related retail en mass.

​The only solely-coffee stand, placed directly in front of the visitor entrance – The Coffee Gondola – is hoping, simply, to get through alive.

Venturing to the furthest points of the UK’s Summer scene and Europe’s expansive Alps by Winter, we are primarily a large-scale event and festival outlet, but also accept bookings at private and corporate functions.

The gondola is a totally self-sufficient and mobile unit, which gives us the benefit of serving our drinks wherever you need them.

We can adapt our menu to suit you and the surroundings, from lazy morning latte’s to late night espresso martini’s – we have it covered.

Please get in touch!