By Cindy Atoji Keene
Andrew Russo was 22-year-old coffee virgin when he drank his first cup five years ago in a military mess hall. “It tasted like muddy water,” said Russo, then an army officer. “I was amazed at how bad it was.” But this initial encounter launched him on a quest to find the perfect cup of coffee and eventually to become the owner and operator of a food truck. His mobile café on wheels peddles coffee, espresso, cappuccino, lattes and cold brewed beverages in the Metrowest and Boston area.
Before launching Captain’s Coffee Brewers last year, Russo visited cities like Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., sampling everything from pancakes to sushi, served from food trucks. “You name it, it can be done from a truck,” said Russo, who liked the freedom of operating from a food truck and wanted to cash in on the food-truck craze, in which the humble blue-collar lunch option has evolved into a foodie eating experience.
Russo invested in a solar power truck, complete with two grinders, manual press, commercial drip coffee maker, two blenders for smoothies and cappuccinos, and a refrigerator for dairy products and storage, plus numerous other equipment. His food truck debut was before the start of the Boston Marathon, where he served coffee to countless runners, including an Australian who had never seen a food truck before, and said, “What is this? Can you actually get a decent cup coffee from a truck?”
Q: Espresso is brewed right from the equipment in your truck – is that difficult to do?
A: It takes a while to get everything up and running since coffee equipment was never designed by any engineer to be in a truck. In our opening day, for example, there wasn’t enough solar power and the generator wasn’t working that great. But you learn to do different unique things to get to operating efficiency.
Q: Are cities and towns friendly to food trucks?
A: Permits or paperwork are different for every town I go to. There are no standards. I have nine different Board of Health permits, for example. Some towns also require a common victualler license. It’s very frustrating but that’s the nature of the business.
Q: You like to experiment with coffee to find the best blend, adding everything from chocolate chips to oatmeal. But what was one experiment that flopped?
A: I decided to try and blend all the beans available at our roasting facility, about 20 different coffees, just to see what would happen. It was the worst thing I ever had in terms of an experimental drink, but it was worth a shot.
Q: How many cups of coffee do you drink a day now?
A: At least nine cups, and two of those are with extra expresso shots. That’s down from 11 a day. I drink so much mainly because if I experiment, I have to taste it all. I don’t like wasting a drop so I finish the cup, even if it didn’t turn out perfectly.
Q: Every get any parking tickets?
A: No, I try to obey the law.