Last time, I got a chance to check in with Bobby Grover of Thump Coffee in Bend. This time, I took things a bit further from home and chatted with Maria de la Croix, co-founder of Wheelys Café, the self-proclaimed “only CEO of a global food company with blue hair.”
Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Wheelys Café is a chain of mobile micro-cafés pulled by bicycle and powered by solar energy. Since being founded in 2014, the startup has shipped over 250 of its bicycle cafés to more than 50 countries. The cafés have made their mark in the Northwest, showing up in locations as diverse as Boise, Idaho, and Tacoma, Washington, along with British Columbia locations in Vancouver, Kelowna and Coquitlam. Here’s what de la Croix had to say about her unique business model, which has been called “the bike powered coffee cart that could take on Starbucks.”
Caffeination Cascadia: How did Wheelys get started, and what were you doing before this?
Maria de la Croix: Before starting Wheelys I’ve mainly been working with fine art. Some might say it’s a big step going from art to a business that is not per se art related. But for me it’s a lot of similarities, it’s all about building and changing the status quo… We started out building Wheelys Cafés in a basement in Malmö, Sweden. Out on the street it was obvious that people loved the concept which made us intrigued to keep working with Wheelys. And suddenly…we’ve grown to being in more than 50 countries..
CC: Are people who buy a Wheelys required to use your coffee, or can they serve local roasts?
MdlC: They do sell our coffee. But they are free to offer local roasts as well! In fact, we encourage local approaches.
CC: Why do you believe that your business model can change the world?
MdlC: We are growing with three outlets per day right now, yet we have just scratched the surface of our potential. All our cafés are run by baristas who love what they are doing. They are all entrepreneurs who decided that this is what they want to do. Which makes a huge difference. Wheelys is a wholly new distribution channel for good food. Easy and cheap to start for everyone. Starbucks, McDonald’s etc. all offer the same GMO sugared drinks, only with a different logo.
CC: Why do you feel solar power and organic coffee are important to the Wheelys concept?
MdlC: It’s important for the world and therefore important for Wheelys. The core of Wheelys is to be organic and good to the planet. I would not see any point in doing this if we were not.
CC: What is your go-to coffee drink of the moment?
MdlC: I’m always in favor of a good pour over. Black.