The signs are out, the coffee is hot, and it’s another day in another town for the PERK Coffee Bar.
Each day of the week from the early hours of morning to mid-afternoon the mobile coffee shop makes its presence known in communities across the southeast quarter of the province with provisions to get residents’ day started. Lattes, espresso, pastries – you name it, they probably have it.
However, behind the travelling café is a deep-rooted desire to not only serve customers their morning cup of joe, but to give back to the residents who make the business worth continuing to operate.
Some remember the three brick and mortar stores Chris Ewen, co-owner of PERK Coffee bar with his fiancé Maranda, operated before pivoting to a business on wheels. Ewen says it was after losing a large sum of money operating his Niverville location that he shut his locations to take a step back and reevaluate his business model.
It was only in August 2020 after years of operating coffee carts at weddings and events that Ewen decided to make his business one that could travel, with the intention of keeping things casual. Since then, it has turned into a popular destination.
"We thought it was going to be a hobby on weekends, and now it is a seven day a week business," he said of PERK’s growth.
"For these types of businesses, you can't go inside with the [COVID-19] restrictions, or you have to be limited to how many people are coming into your restaurant or your cafe. But with an outdoor location, you're not as limited."
The pivot proved to be successful as customers frequent the coffee bar when it comes into town for the day. On a regimented schedule, the mobile service stops in Ile des Chenes, Kleefeld, Lorette, St Adolphe, Ste Anne and St Pierre.
But it’s not a one-way transaction for Ewen; he said as part of his business plan he wanted to include returning the favour to his loyal customers. For PERK, that means donating some of their proceeds to businesses and organizations in the towns they frequent, including daycares, high school grad committees, and most recently, St Adolphe’s Hawkeyville fundraiser.
PERK donates up to 10 percent of their proceeds for that day to the organization they’ve partnered with. For the folks rallying to get repairs done on the St Adolphe arena the coffee bar wrote them a cheque for $400 from just one week of sales of a beverage and cookie made specially for the initiative.
"We love the idea of supporting local through donations we're setting up here and giving them an opportunity because we know it just comes back to us," Ewen said.
Ewen’s community-minded outlook on the business stems from not only growing up in the region but becoming a leader in it as well. As the mayor of Ritchot in his second term he doesn’t necessarily separate the two professions.
"We might get the odd customer that comes in and asks about you know, a ditch or a drain or they asked about something, I'm okay with that because you know, they're still coming to support me and if they want to talk, I put on that hat. And I got elected as mayor to be available all the time for people," he said.
With his business owner’s hat on, PERK Coffee Bar is already expanding their business with another mobile café currently in construction. He hopes to be able to take the new business into different regions of the province while also expanding their events bookings once COVID-19 restrictions allow for such gatherings.
"My goal in life in businesses, anything I do, I hope I can inspire somebody to do something they love to do," Ewen said.
As for reexploring the realm of brick and mortar stores again, Ewen said he has no plans to go back to his old ways.
"Never. Strictly on wheels from here on out."