Even without her bright yellow Volkswagen van, Elizabeth Estabrook is a ray of sunshine.
She’s kind while remaining genuine, friendly without being over the top and has an enviable commitment to helping other women succeed. And she’s doing it all from her van.
Estabrook opened Lady Sunshine Coffee in March and is preparing to take her mobile coffee bar on the road this summer, hitting farmers markets, parks and private events. Her signature 1984 Volkswagen Westfalia Vanagon has sunflower decals growing up the side, and the back is home to a commercial espresso machine, a bean grinder, a batch hot coffee brewer, a puck press and an industrial cooler to hold cold brew, milk and ice.
Her menu is simple. She sells a dozen coffee drinks and teas with homemade syrups (vanilla bean is a staple, and current offerings include coconut and maple brown sugar), hot chocolate and a few small snacks that Estabrook makes herself in a commercial kitchen. Everything is $5 or less and it comes with a smile, a story and a true passion for her newfound business.
“Everybody’s first reaction is always, ‘Oh my God, I love the van.’ You just can’t help but smile, which is what I wanted,” said Estabrook, who quit her human resources job to take on Lady Sunshine full time. “We all drink coffee for different reasons, but the joy and the smiles I see people have − it’s cheesy but so true − is the entire point. With all the s*** going on in the world, it’s a time to be grateful for the 12 or 16 ounces you have. It’s simple, and it’s for everybody. There’s nothing pretentious about it.”
The West Bridgewater resident said she was in a job interview with a business owner and friend of a friend who told her, “I’ll give you this job, but I don’t think you want it.” He was right, and encouraged her to come up with a real plan for her dream of owning a coffee business.
She immediately balked at the prices of renting a commercial space and started to get creative, finding inspiration in the online listing for her van, which was sold to her by a Los Angeles man with his own mobile coffee gig.
“A pushcart just seemed like too much for me and a brick-and-mortar was really out of the realm of what I was trying to do,” she said. “In the end, it felt very serendipitous. … Even my HR job was similar to what I’m doing now. You go out, interact with people and hope they do good things in the world. I just knew (HR) wasn’t my purpose in life, and this this all happened so fast.”
She sources her coffee from women-owned growers and roasters across the world. Her cold brew is Chica Bean, a Guatemalan coffee producer; the coffee and espresso are from North Carolina-based Café Femenino Coffee; and tea comes from Ajiri Tea, a nonprofit that supports women in Kenya.
“We take for granted this luxury commodity of coffee. I always try to figure out where the things I’m buying come from, what its story is and what the unintended consequences of my purchase may be,” Estabrook said. “Now that I’m the one selling, I want people to know I’ve done that work on my own products. My intention is to bring a little more positivity into the world, and I want to do that through coffee.”
Estabrook is still new to the mobile food game, but she has joined the South Shore Food Truck Association and is permitted to sell coffee in 15 South Shore towns. Much of her business has come from private and corporate events so far, and she’s partnered with the YMCA to set up at the occasional drop-off and pickup time.
“If you could be here every day for my break time, that’d be great,” South Shore Nature Center employee Kiki Pion joked Wednesday.
This summer, Estabrook will be a regular at the Braintree Farmers Market and other pop-up events in the region.
“It’s been so much fun and my schedule is packed,” Estabrook said. “It’s very simple coffee and I meet people, literally and figuratively, where they are.”
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.