“Hey, I’ll be right over!” Townsend Colon says, pulling his headphones from his ears. “I just want to grab some coffee.”
Soon, it will be Colon who’s grinding the beans and pulling the shots. Earlier today, he and partner Sarah Saleh launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund Somerville Coffee Crew, the mobile coffee shop they’ve been working to bring to life for more than three years. The hope is that they’ll be cruising Somerville’s streets in a refurbished vintage Citroen H van by the beginning of summer—a feeling that Colon, a self-proclaimed introvert, says is great (and nerve-wracking).
Along with Render and Triangle Coffee, Figs is one of Colon’s favorite local spots—and he’s a frequent patron of of all of them. “It was important to me that we didn’t just show up and appear and not really be an active member of the same community that we’re trying to be a part of,” he explains. Greater Boston, he says, has a coffee culture that rivals that of New York, and he’s spent the last several months establishing relationships throughout the city, befriending baristas and shop owners and attending local events while he and Saleh honed their vision.
The pair have been prepping to launch Somerville Coffee Crew ever since a 2013 trip to Japan. As they made their way to a ramen joint one afternoon, they came across a cart on the streets of Osaka where a man was slowly and ceremoniously pouring drinks for patrons. “We had never really seen anything like that before, anything that was hand done or prepped in that style,” Colon says. “For us, that was kind of a defining moment, in that it showed the complexity of coffee wrapped up in this simplistic kind of ritual.”
When they returned to Somerville, Colon and Saleh thought they might start a coffee cart of their own, though they ultimately decided it wasn’t feasible at the time. But the idea never really went away, and they started laying the foundation for Somerville Coffee Crew after—ironically enough—moving to California. Colon started using his nights and weekends to design logos and develop a business plan. Rather than a cart, or even a food truck, they set their sights on a reconditioned Citroen H van. “We liked the ritualistic aspect of Japanese coffee, but we also wanted the romanticism of the European cafe,” Colon says. The vintage French panel van would offer them more mobility, letting them get out in the community and bring coffee to the streets of Somerville. Also, it would look really, really cool.
Things have started to move quickly for the Somerville Coffee Crew, uh, crew. They’re back on the East Coast. Their website is live. The van is currently being refinished in New Jersey, and it should be ready by the end of the month. Over the next few months, they’ll install all the equipment in the interior and take trips down to Brooklyn to learn everything they can from their vendor, Parlor Coffee.
Until their Kickstarter, this industrious duo were funding the whole project themselves—in fact, they were doing everything themselves, right down to the adorable illustrations and graphic design work on their website. But the community has been supportive—the gang at Loyal Supply Co. lent Colon their button maker so he could print some SCC merch, and the people behind established area shops have been generous with their advice and their time.
Working with local businesses and shops, fostering a sense of community through caffeine—these things will continue to be important to the Crew moving forward. As they’ve built their business, they’ve noticed that coffee culture (like many subcultures) can feel a little exclusive, a little insider-y. “While we totally understand that, that was something was something that we kind of wanted to change about it,” Colon notes. “We wanted to make it more approachable, we wanted to make it something that could be more community involved.”
“First and foremost, we want to make good coffee,” he says. “And we want to share how that happens.”