The inventive mobile businesses of Lancashire
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From coffee trucks and fizz vans to picture perfect photobooths, we talk to the Lancashire folk who have taken their show on the road with mobile businesses run from their cherished vans.
THE COFFEE VINTAGE CO, RAMSBOTTOM
Jonathan Bayley took an inkling of an idea and a passion for travel and turned it into a van with a plan. The Coffee Vintage Company is based in his classic Citroen H van and Jonathan serves artisan coffee and snacks at public and private events.
‘Having spent a lot of time with my family travelling to different events, markets and country shows, my daughter, who is coeliac, and I always struggled to find the standard of coffee and snacks we wanted. I bemoaned the lack of a decent coffee and availability of gluten-free snacks and spied a business opportunity. At the time, in 2013, coffee was one of the boom businesses and there was a niche for gluten-free products too. A certain part of the attraction of the business was probably my slightly itinerant nature borne from a previous career spending 10 years travelling around Europe working in the motor sport industry. There is a strange allure about moving from place-to-place to work rather than being in one fixed location.
‘But it’s not always easy to jump ship from the 9-5, follow your dream and set up a start-up. After I was made redundant in 2013, I felt it was time for a radical change, a need to step off the treadmill and do something I wanted to do – at the pace I wanted, to try to enjoy the latter part of my working career. The enormous support of my wife, Sue, and the rest of the family have allowed me to pursue this.
‘The support of other small businesses in the area, and championing other people’s ideas has been key, too. In the very early days, I was fortunate to be at a market event with Jeremy Smith of Lytham Coffee Company and we struck up a rapport and have supported each other (on social media) ever since.
I carry a Lytham Coffee Co. swing sign and the comments I get are incredible. It’s sometimes assumed I am Lytham Coffee Company, and not an independent trader from Ramsbottom, which I think is the foodie capital of East Lancashire. These talking points spark the conversations that build the relationships that generate more business.
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‘I was never interested in a regular daily pitch, parked in some lay-by from 6am-2pm. The prime aim was to provide quality drinks at specific events – places I would like to visit myself. I wanted to be in varied surroundings with like-minded people. I get great joy from the reactions of people as I motor around the North West – people love to stare, wave and smile.’
CHASE THE SUN
Preston-based Vinny Scarantino has always loved her classic campers. Today, she runs Chase the Sun, a company that hires out VW campervans and her vans have been used for wedding transport, holiday homes, prosecco wagons and a photobooth.
‘I’ve had a passion for classic cars since I was little and knew as a child I wanted to work with them – that feeling never left me. I also knew a job inside or a desk job wasn’t for me. I love camping and being outside, whatever the weather. It was the summer of 2005, I set about looking to hire a classic campervan to take away to France. I was surprised no one in the North West provided this service – so, the seed was planted. I ended up buying my own van and the love affair began. I knew, eventually, I wanted to buy a small fleet and hire them out to people like me.
‘When I first started the business in 2006, there was a massive gap in the market. I now have a several vans that are hired out for so many different reasons. Everyone loves a classic VW! It’s the sound and even the smell of them too. People come and ask how old the vans are, if they’re original, how long I have had them and then share their experiences and stories. I’ve even been in supermarket car parks where people have come over to take their photographs with them.
‘The business name came while on holiday in South Africa, driving across the country, literally chasing the sunshine. I knew instantly it was a great name for a business. There’s a lifestyle of freedom and open roads that goes with owning a VW. I love to camp in Dusty, she’s perfectly kitted out for camping adventures as well as looking her best for weddings. I love driving Doris on a sunny day with the full roof and front windows open – she also looks amazing as a Prosecco bar. I love driving the Treat Truck as she’s totally unique and sounds like a jet plane.
Each van has their own character and I love them individually!
‘Life on the road is varied and I love that I have learned to restore and service these cars myself. I can now carry out pretty big repairs on them, it’s a wonderful sense of satisfaction, a wonderful feeling!’
Gillian Bartlett, founder of a mobile gin and prosecco bar Copa Fizz. decided to follow her dream of leaving the corporate world and used a career change as a catalyst to do something different.
‘It was spotting an advert for vintage buses that set me off thinking about how we could do a mobile bar. I met with a company that specialise in making coffee and Prosecco vans out of Piaggio vehicles. That was it, we were cooking on gas. I didn’t want to have a vintage-looking van, as the actual van is new, although it has the styling of a retro vehicle. But I wanted to target the corporate market – that was at the forefront of our minds when we were designing the finish, we wanted it to be sleek and didn’t want kitsch.
‘I love gin so wanted to make sure the van focused on this as well as Prosecco – it also meant I wasn’t limiting my market. And although Prosecco has been having a serious moment since 2017 when Copa Fizz was born, it’s actually the gin offering that people go really wild for.
‘Our mobile bar shines a spotlight on local produce and supports the local community. In fact, with the bar being on the move, it showcases Lancashire to the nation. We’re championing Lancashire to a wider audience. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Prosecco doesn’t get a look in, but it’s all about the gin when we go out and about now. Our USP is local Lancashire gins, we don’t do mass brands. We use gins from local suppliers such as Brindle Distillery, Black Powder in Weeton, Batch in Burnley, we’ve got Ribble Valley Gin and Forgan from Banks, near Southport. They all offer around four different flavours now, so when we go out with the full collection, we have at least 20 local gins with a mixture of true London Dry and fruit.’
‘The van stands out and attracts attention. Its top speed is only about 24 mile an hour, so when we drive it, we’ve had people filming us as we go past and had the pomping of horns, and because it’s quite a noisy engine, you can hear it coming before it comes into view so people will stop and take notice. I love that interaction with people.
‘From the beginning, with it being a Piaggio and looking quirky, we knew it needed to have a name. So, my van is called Gino and is named after Gino d’ACampo because he’s quirky and a zesty little number! ‘It’s all about Gillian and Gino, and we’ve brought the van to life and given him his own little personality – people love that. I love that the van is mobile, and in theory, you can take it anywhere. And it’s my little mobile office, I get to take my working environment everywhere with me.’
Whatever it is you fancy for your party, you can probably find it in van-form somewhere in Lancashire. We round up some of the county’s other fabulous van-based businesses
What started out as a small Prosecco van for this family-run company from Lytham, soon turned into something much bigger. Now, they run event bars across the country with huge success. The Prosecco van, Pimms trike and boozy hot chocolate trike set them apart from the crowd.
The Humble Kitchen Co.
Established in 2017 by Chorley’s Gill and Glyn Jones, this independent street food mobile caterer attends events nationally and specialises in using only the highest quality locally produced ingredients.
Natty Bee’s Vintage Hire
We told you there was no limit to the imagination with some of these vans, and this niche offering of different vintage vans from Wigan-based Natty Bee’s gives you the choice of an ice cream van, a rustic photobooth, and a glitter booth for festivals for any event you can imagine.
The Little Tea Company
This chic Ribble Valley tea bar, spotted at events across the country, serves all the best things - tea and amazing cakes. We’re not sure it gets more quirky and British than this.
Not strictly a van but far too funky a mobile business to not include! This Blackpool-based Prosecco boat - a converted classic 1950s speed boat - has been converted into a vintage Prosecco bar. Is there a more fun way to sip bubbles in the sunshine?