I am willing to bet that at least every other day a new food truck appears on the scene in Houston. Add that to the army of existing trucks and it can be hard to stand out among the rest. So, when a new truck opens up that happens to be a ‘57 Cadillac pulling a ‘62 Shasta camper and serves espresso drinks it has no problem making headlines. The real news, I discovered after chatting with Cadillac Coffee owners Meghan Ackerman and Austin Lane, is that the retro theme is no gimmick and not their focus either. Quality, hand-crafted coffee drinks are what they want to give their customers and not just a show.
Honestly, when I first heard about Cadillac Coffee I was excited that a coffee food truck had made it on the scene and thought the retro look was a pretty cool idea. When I started thinking about contacting them for a story, though, I was hesitant. Would a gimmicky food truck really care about serving good coffee? Fortunately for me I sat down with them on the front porch of their Heights home-base and chatted about who they are.
“Megan had the Cadillac and we wanted to tie it in somehow,” Austin tells me. “And we both loved coffee so that was sort of the catalyst to get the wheels turning. It kind of just organically and naturally formed.” Austin and Meghan had the idea to do a food truck while living in Louisiana, but it wasn’t until they moved to Houston that they were able to put it together. They did the best thing that anybody could do when starting their own business. They made it into something that they loved to do.
“It’s everything that I love,” Meghan shares with me. “I love baking, I grew up baking. My grandmother, my mother and I baked constantly. I love retro things and I love coffee. So, if I’m going to create a job for myself I’m gonna combine everything that I love.” It’s a good thing that it is fun, because what they describe to me sounds like an enormous amount of work. She starts her day getting up at 3:30 to begin making the kolaches (made with local Frenchy’s Sausage Co. sausage) that they serve alongside their coffee. It’s all made by scratch, by her, everyday. “Each individual kolache is hand-made,” Austin says bragging on her. “There’s no stamp, it’s like there’s this old Czech grandma in the back of our house hand rolling them.”
The food, of course, isn’t the only thing that they put so much effort into. Before getting started they spent weeks searching for the best coffee and figuring out the right machine to use to make it. Their search led them to Big Bend Coffee Roasters out of Marfa, TX for their espresso blend. Joe at Big Bend not only worked with them to find the right blend to use but also gave them lots of advice. To pull the shots they decided to go with a Rancilio single head espresso machine that fit perfectly in the Shasta.
“Attention to detail and quality was really important to me in build-out,” Meghan tells me. “They were like you can’t put an espresso machine of that quality on a food truck.” She was told about different short cuts that they could use to make the drinks in a food truck. Ideas like fully automated push button machines or powders and a mixer to make a mocha were suggested to her. “There’s no way,” she scoffed. “If that’s the way I’m going to have to do it then I’d rather just sell pizza or something. If I’m gonna do coffee, I’m gonna do it right. I wanted the whole barista experience. I wanted to be able to offer custom made hand-crafted drinks for each person. It was difficult but we made it happen.” They spent months during the build-out making sure everything came together right in order to be able to make good coffee in a food truck as well as restoring the classic Shasta. The Cadillac they already had. “It’s not a gimmick,” Austin says.
“I’ve been driving that thing for 10 years,” Meghan tells me. “We don’t put the value of our product in our brand. I don’t pass it on to the customer just because it’s something cool to look at. I drive a 57 Cadillac. They don’t have to pay for that…. that’s me.”
While people do enjoy the retro theme of Cadillac Coffee it is quickly becoming apparent that what brings their customers back is the coffee and kolaches. Many days they sell out and not because of poor planning but because so many people come by and line up to place their order. On their Facebook and Twitter pages, where they announce their daily locations, you can find many enthusiastic comments about how good they are. It’s easy, then, to understand how someone wouldn’t mind paying for a carefully crafted product. “We are doing a quality product and people seem to like it,” Austin says. “We didn’t just want to throw a bunch of stuff together and sell it to the people.”
Making good coffee can be traced back to Meghan’s first experiences with it. “My step grandmother had an espresso machine,” Meghan reminisces. “ She wore bright red lipstick. She would smoke cigarettes and drink cappuccinos while lying at the pool all day long. When she would go into the hose to take naps, I would take sips of it,” she laughs. “She knew and asked me if I would like to learn. She said you can use the espresso machine anytime you want. Just do it properly.” Her great grandmother would be proud of her.
Besides the quality of their coffee and kolaches, the experience that their customers have with them is very important. We discussed the mass produced madness of chains like Starbucks and the disconnect with customers that comes with fast paced food service. Not missing out on this connection with their customers is to deeply important to them. “We get to interact and we like talking to people. What’s your story? What are you about,” Austin says.
“We just love it,” Meghan exclaims. “We really love what we do. We love serving. I love handing them a cup and seeing them smell it and taste it and hear them say: ‘This is so good I love it.’ That makes me so happy. I might be tired or had a bad day, but when I hand that cup to them and they enjoy it: that just makes it all worth it. That means the world to me. I love it.”