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…
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
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
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
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!