The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Coffee Stall/Mobile Coffee Shop
Coffee is one of the most popular beverages around, and starting a mobile coffee shop, like a coffee stall, is an extremely simple business idea with plenty of potential. As long as you have the right knowledge, determination, and love for this oh-so-bitter beverage, then you’re surely going to succeed in making this business work.
This article will discuss everything you need to know about the mobile coffee shop business in the Philippines: what it is, what opportunities it may have, and how you can get started.
What are you waiting for? Let’s get brewin’!
A coffee stall or mobile coffee shop is a non-permanent establishment that serves different kinds of coffee beverages. Simply put, it’s a cafe on wheels.
Coffee is an ancient drink and has been around for a very long time and its exact origins were forgotten in history. The very first cultivation of this plant happened in Yemen. From there, it gave rise to a new culture of coffeehouses, which spread across the world.
Today, coffee is the most popular drink in the world, with over 450 million cups being consumed every day.
The Philippines is no exception. Practically everybody drinks coffee, though some might like it more than most. And without exception, everybody knows another person who’s an absolute coffee enthusiast.
As the population grows, so does the demand for coffee. And today, there are many popular and niche coffee places that you can go to around town.
However, not all of them are easy to locate, especially if you live in the province or other rural towns.
From the customer’s perspective, they can especially miss their morning brew when they’re hurrying on the way to work, if they’re not in a downtown area, or if there just isn’t any decent coffee place where they are.
This is where mobile coffee shops come in.
Because you can move around, mobile shops can go where the customers are. This flexibility will surely endear you wherever you plan to set up shop. Plus, there are many other perks that this business model can grant an enterprising brain.
Now that you know what the business is all about, you might be itching to start your mobile coffee shop in the Philippines.
But not so fast! While a mobile coffee shop has a simple business premise, it can be a complicated industry, especially for those who are complete beginners in the trade. Before you can begin, you need to have a good understanding of the business and the factors that can affect it.
One of the most important considerations when you’re running any mobile food or beverage business, is the legalities behind it.
While the Philippines have a rich history of food being sold from street vendors, stalls, and carts, there aren’t very many dedicated food truck businesses in the country.
Although it means that you have less competition and are likely to succeed in your niche if you do your job well – it also means that it can be confusing to navigate the necessary permissions and policies that you need to obtain to start a business as there is no comprehensive guide.
Fortunately, it’s not that different from registering a brick-and-mortar coffee house. Here are the following legal documents that all businesses in the Philippines have to secure:
- DTI registration
- BIR registration
- Mayor’s permit
Here are a few other things specific to a mobile shop:
- Vehicle registration.
- Driver’s license
- Barangay permit (From the barangay you want to operate in)
While there aren’t any comprehensive national guides, this doesn’t stop you from talking to government officials in various agencies about the things that you must do to satisfy the regulations in their area.
One fundamental aspect of your mobile coffee place is your menu. Specifically, what kind of coffee do you serve, and how? To answer this, you need to know the coffee ins and outs of the product that you’re trying to serve.
If you’re a die-hard coffee person, then you already know that there are four main types of coffee beans. Since the people you will be serving will most likely also have a distinguished taste, it’s important that you can tell the differences between these four main types of coffee.
- Arabica beans (Coffea arabica). Accounting for about 60% of the world’s coffee supply, these beans are grown at a high altitude in places with consistent rainfall. Arabica beans of higher grade have a lively body and a gratifying level of acidity. They can also have complex multi-layered tastes and smells.
- Robusta beans (Coffea caniphora). Second only to Arabica in being the most common coffee produced, Robusta is a hardy plant that is grown in a wide range of altitudes and environments, incluing lowlands. In the Philippines, it can be found in the Southern Tagalog regions. It contains twice as much caffeine as Arabica, but is just as smooth. For those who enjoy cream and sugar, this coffee is for you.
- Liberica beans (Coffea liberica). Nowadays, Liberica is more difficult to find in the coffee industry, yet this variety has a significant history in the development of coffee as it was once grown as an alternative coffee when coffee rust ravaged the industry around 1860. Locally referred to in the Philippines as Kapeng Barako, it packs a powerful punch and has a distinctive chocolaty and smoky flavor. Although its strong aroma and consistency may be overbearing to some, many love its spicy undertones.
- Excelsa beans (Coffea excelsa). Only 7% of the coffee consumed worldwide is Excelsa, which is mostly grown in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. This type is frequently included in blends to give it a boost in complexity and flavor. Excelsa has a tart and fruity body with notes of a mild roast that are also dark and smoky. Coffee aficionados from all over the world are enticed by the unique flavors that Excelsa creates.
Aside from the type of coffee beans that you brew, it’s also important that you know the main kinds of brew that you can serve. This is a primary concern as well because you’re going to need the accompanying equipment if you want to serve coffee in a certain way.
- Drip Brew. For this brewing type, ground coffee is added to a brew basket and put in an automated coffee maker. A typical cup of coffee is produced by allowing water to flow through the grinds with the help of gravity.
- Pour Over. This method of brewing involves slowly pouring hot water through coffee grinds that are placed in a filter basket. The coffee is then drip-brewed into a single cup, producing a strong beverage.
- Cold Brew. To make a cold brew, coarsely ground coffee is infused with warm water for a protracted length of time. As a result, the drink becomes more caffeinated and less bitter.
- Espresso. You'll need an espresso or cappuccino machine to make one of these. These devices filter a filter holding finely ground dark roasted coffee beans with pressurized hot water.
- Ristretto. Pressurized water is poured through the coffee grinds to produce a beverage that is brewed similarly to espresso – but you would only need half as much water. An espresso shot that is more concentrated and darker is produced by the shorter brewing period.
Espresso, steamed milk, and froth are the three main components of most coffee drinks, and varying types of it can be available on your mobile shop.
Depending on the specific tastes of your clients, additional toppings may be added to each variety of coffee. Here are a few examples of coffee drinks and potential cup combinations that you might want to add to your mobile coffee shop's menu.
Remember though that drink ratio is often a recipe matter, and will vary from shop to shop.
- Espresso. Arguably one of the most popular types of coffee in the country, the espresso is a must-have in any coffee shop, mobile or not. You’ll need a little over 1 ounce of highly concentrated coffee to make this.
- Double Espresso. The Italian term for "double" is "doppio," which is also used to refer to a double espresso. This beverage is very concentrated and will often only be for coffee enthusiasts.
- Americano. Although they are essentially simply one shot of espresso diluted with three ounces of hot water, Americanos are a common breakfast beverage. The water dilutes the espresso while keeping the caffeine content high.
- Macchiato. Macchiato isItalian for "mark" or "stain." This is a reference to the mark that steamed milk makes when it is dashed into espresso, which is the surface of the beverage.
- Cappuccino. In Italy, this rich coffee beverage is frequently enjoyed for breakfast, and it’s the same here in the Philippines. Due to the various flavorings that can be added and the thick foam layer, it is frequently linked with comfort and indulgence.
- Cafe Latte. Since the amount of milk in a cafe latte reduces the acidity and bitterness of the coffee, it is thought of as an introductory coffee drink. To make the latte sweeter for those who want it, flavoring syrups are frequently added.
- Mocha. The mocha is seen as a cross between coffee and hot chocolate. The addition of cocoa powder or syrup gives the dish a rich, creamy taste while balancing the espresso's acidity.
- Iced Coffee. Iced coffees are particularly popular during hot summer months. There are several variations in the recipes, with some places preferring to replace the water in the dish with milk.
One of the best advantages of starting a mobile coffee business is that it requires far less capital than creating a physical location for a cafe or coffeehouse. This means that you can be a bit more flexible with your financing – some can even start their coffee stalls with just their savings.
Nevertheless, whatever financing options you have, you must take note of the following types of expenses for your coffee shop.
As you can get from its name, startup costs are the expenses that you have to spend while you’re starting your coffee business. These can be things such as the following.
- Vehicle purchase
- Mobile coffee shop construction/customization
- Coffee-making equipment
- Initial supplies
- Licensing and registration costs
Also often termed maintenance costs, these are the expenses that you have to pay as time goes by. Although not big as startup costs, these do stack up over time and should be one of your primary concerns as a business.
Here are some examples of ongoing costs for a mobile coffee house business.
- Truck and equipment maintenance
- Employee salaries
- Insurance, etc.
Next, consider how you’re going to have your food truck made.
You might run into some trouble when shopping around for solutions that can help you turn your vehicle into a coffee truck. This is because there are not that many food trucks around, so there aren’t very many customization shops that sprung up to cater to that particular demand.
Nevertheless, you should still be able to talk to your local welding or automotive shops and find a solution. It might take a little bit more planning and cost, but it’s going to be well worth it in the end.
The last factor that you need to consider is your location and route – things that you should plan for even before investing in your vehicle.
Some barangays might have zones dedicated to food trucks, carts, and other businesses like yours, but your selections may be restricted. However, you often get to choose the area. You can't invade a competitor's territory.
You should also investigate nearby tourist attractions, business hubs, job sites, educational institutions, and so on.
You might also consider collaborating with a food truck that offers foods that go well with yours. A coffee truck looks excellent next to a food truck that serves pastries.
You’re going to have a unique situation depending on your location, so you need to be sure of the logistics and legalities first and foremost.
Once you know the foundations of owning and running a mobile coffee stall, you have everything you need to get started. But exactly how are you going to launch a project as significant as this? Here are the steps.
The very first step to making your mobile coffee house dream come true is not buying a truck and having it renovated. It’s much less exciting, but very very important: planning your project properly.
Failing to plan is planning to fail, as they say, so make sure that your business plan is solid. Here are a few points to consider.
- Conduct market research. This is a specific type of research designed to help you figure out who your customers are, what their wants are, and who your competitors are. Learning those three things will get you a long way towards not just starting your coffee truck, but making it into a success.
- Research your industry. Just because you drink two cups ofcoffee a day doesn’t mean you know everything you should about making and selling coffee. Research what makes your industry tick, talk to cafe owners, research potential suppliers, and figure out where the demand lies before committing.
- Figure out costs. Based on the kind of coffee shop you’re envisioning, figure out an estimate of how much money you need to start. Include also in your cost calculation the first few months of maintenance cost for your operation.
- Scope out potential locations. You should already have two or three potential ideas for the location of your mobile coffee house. Research them, figure out their peak hours, how difficult it is to get there, and the general atmosphere of the place.
- Understand legalities. Know what you need to do to be a legal business owner even before you spend a single peso on your coffee truck. Talk to your city and government agencies about the legalities you need to comply with.
- Make a business plan. With the results of your market research, draft a complete business plan that spells out the details of your operation. You can use this business plan as a guide for the next few months as you start your project, or you can even use it as a compelling document to help you get investors.
Proper planning is the fundamental part of any good business – you should never brush it off. Painstaking planning removes many potential roadblocks that you might face in the future, while hurried planning is going to waste plenty of time and money down the road.
If you’ve done a good job planning, then it’s time for you to make your dreams a reality. Here are the sequential steps that you should take when you’re finally putting the pieces of your mobile coffee shop together.
Before anything else, you should already begin the process of registration. You need to be a registered, tax-paying business to be able to operate legally. Plus, you also have other benefits, such as being able to write off certain purchases and assets as part of your business expenses.
As mentioned before, the documents you will need are the following:
- DTI registration
- BIR registration
- Mayor’s Permit
- Vehicle registration
- Driver’s license
- Barangay permit
Go to the appropriate agency and simply ask how you can get those documents for your business.
You can also simultaneously start the process of buying your vehicle and then customizing it.
If you already own a vehicle that you just need to customize, you can start this process immediately. However, if you don’t, you can start scoping out potential units and begin negotiation.
The final buying and turnover should be conducted once your business is fully registered, though.
To save on costs, be sure to check out second-hand and repossessed vehicles.
In customizing, be sure to have a design beforehand. Since you’re going to be operating out of the truck, you need to maximize the space as much as possible, so you need exact measurements of the equipment that you plan to buy.
The next step is to buy your equipment.
Once again, ensure that everything has a place in your truck. Nothing’s more off-putting to customers than a disorganized kitchen, and nothing kills productivity more than improperly placed equipment, utensils, and materials. Thus, buy only what you planned for.
As for materials, source high-quality and cost-effective coffee beans.
The Philippines has a booming local coffee culture and tradition, so there are plenty of local startups and companies that you can try out.
Even as you’re customizing and outfitting your truck, you can begin advertising your brand on Facebook and other social media platforms.
Advertising through social media platforms is easy and free, as long as you know what to do. Make sure to put up high-quality content all the time, and let your follower base discover you organically.
You can do this even without spending a lot of money or dedicating specific people to social media management.
Think of ways to post content that improves the lives of your customers. Here are a few tips.
- Post snippets of your trucks’ construction and behind-the-scenes of your coffee business.
- Share helpful articles, YouTube videos, and podcasts about the health benefits of coffee.
- Participate in local events, challenges, and trends.
With your truck ready and your follower base duly notified, launch your mobile coffee truck with a bang! Be sure to make a good impression, don’t forget to give away freebies, and ask them to follow and share your social media pages.
The last phase is your daily operations from your launch date.
These are the days going forward. The wheels have hit the pavement and the coffee has started pouring – what now? There’s no set guide for this, as your business situation is as unique as yours. From this point forward, you’re going to have to spot opportunities, solve problems, and do your best to turn a profit.
Start small – you’re also learning as well. Don’t be immediately ambitious and start going for more and more customers from the get-go.
Instead, pace yourself. Have a feel for the markets, develop relationships, and test theories.
Just like coffee, the more patient you are when brewing, the better it will turn out to be.
Mobile coffee shops are a creative need for meeting many people’s daily drinks for their energy. And it’s not just a concept – it also has multiple concrete benefits.
The main benefit of this kind of business is the product you’re selling itself! Coffee is always in high demand: just look at the success of countless coffee shops as an example. Even the most mediocre ones still shine because people are always looking for a spot to hang out and drink coffee.
Although the Philippines is relatively small, it has a big appetite for coffee. According to Philstar, the country will lead the coffee consumption in South East Asia within the next five years.
While this can be attributed to different factors such as rising incomes, a rise in cafe culture, and more, there’s one overarching reason for this demand – the very reason that you can expect the demand for coffee to continue to grow.
Simply put, the caffeine in coffee makes it addictive.
Before you panic – it’s not that bad. Caffeine, the stimulant present in your coffee cup, is perfectly natural, and within tolerable levels. But the point is: once people discover your good coffee, they’re going to come back for more.
Your products will always be in demand.
While there’s plenty of demand for coffee, it’s not so easy to satisfy. It’s easy to say to just open coffee shops, but the reality is that the average person like you and me can’t afford one without serious financial support from banks.
This means that you need to borrow money, and plenty of it, to establish a well-functioning cafe that people will like. That’s not to mention the costs of operating it going forward, which include:
Pop-ups are an affordable option for coffee-loving entrepreneurs like you to avoid making large upfront capital commitments while still getting started on your dream.
Your start-up costs are definitely not going to be as big as brick-and-mortar cafes. For one, you’re going to eliminate rent, which is one of the biggest cost drivers of physical cafes.
Advertising is also much easier with mobile coffee shops.
Aside from methods like social media marketing, you can directly develop a clientele by being in the location where they always are.
Plus, if the event is successful and gets positive feedback, it may even draw in potential investors that you can then use to fund your coffee house, or more coffee trucks/stalls.
With a mobile coffee stall, the only expenses you'll normally have to worry about are temporary leases, permits, mobile brewing equipment, and supplies.
In this era of social media and hyper-fast internet trends, people’s tastes can change in an instant.
Trends can change in a minute, and that makes it difficult for big establishments to adapt and change their menus according to what’s popular. Unless big shops devote a big chunk of money to market research and trend monitoring, they’re not going to be able to react on time to exploit a trend.
Your flexibility in your menu offering is another advantage of your mobile coffee shop.
Since you have a smaller operation and your business is more in touch with the community, you can easily observe trends as they happen.
Plus, since your menu often won’t rely on fragile supply chains stretched across the globe, it’s much easier to change what you offer according to the current tastes. You can even try out new ideas and experiment with your offerings – maybe even set a trend yourself!
While you need to pay a premium to be able to establish your coffee place in an accessible and foot-trafficked area, you’re not going to have this problem with a mobile restaurant because you can set up shop wherever you want.
For your stall, you have more flexible site possibilities, and you can even test out many different locations.
It’s also easier to investigate many prospective sites for your coffee stall before it opens so that you can choose the ideal place to set up shop.
Because the barrier of expensive rent and time-consuming paperwork is removed, you have more freedom to explore and set up shop wherever you need to.
Plus, you have a steady influx of customers – because you know that they’ll always be there! This is especially true if you set up shop near popular destinations such as malls, tourist destinations, museums, etc.
Or, if you have a vehicle, you can even just drive around in a route and change locations as the demand for your delicious coffee would dictate.
You might think that a mobile store can’t help you build a regular clientele that's essential for so many other businesses, but you would be wrong.
For customers, this is actually one of the biggest appeals of mobile shops.
The FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out,” is a modern term coined for people who are afraid to miss out on important events happening around them.
This makes your shop exclusive and hard to get.
There is only a window for customers to take advantage of an exclusive, limited, or once-in-a-lifetime bargain, which is why most mobile shops are successful and what makes them so alluring to the average consumer.
Customers who wait not only run the chance of the item being lost but also run the risk of the store not being open.
This also helps your advertising efforts. You can post updates on where you are, what time you will be open, how much stock is left, and more information that reinforces the exclusivity of your shop.
While running a coffee shop has its perks, it’s not always a joyride. There are challenges that can make or break your coffee stall business as well.
To help you prepare against these challenges, let’s examine the most significant barriers you are likely to face when establishing a mobile coffee shop in the Philippines.
The first and biggest factor is always going to be competition with established cafes in the market.
Wherever you are in the country, there’s always one or two local coffee shops enjoying the patronage of people that you would like to be your customer. Plus, they are likely going to have more capital than you do, which they can use to react to competition in the market (including yours.)
This means that it’s critical to understand your specific circumstances and figure out what other aspects of demand you can fulfill.
As a mobile coffee shop, the roads are going to be a major aspect of your operation – especially the main highways, if you need to go far from your base of operations.
And when talking about roads, traffic should be a major part of the discussion.
Traffic in the Philippines is the worst in the ASEAN region, and we’ve even ranked 9th for worst traffic jams internationally.
By now, everybody knows that traffic in the country can be extreme. Wherever you are, if you live in a major metropolitan area, you can expect traffic jams to be present during rush hours.
This means that if you’re not prepared accordingly, your entire business could suffer. If you’re not at your location by the time the rush hour arrives, you could end up with a lost day.
However, you can beat traffic with just a little bit of planning and preparation. Here are some tips.
- Get on the road early.
- Avoid rush hours (typically around 7 AM to 9 AM and 5 PM to 9 PM).
- Take note of coding restrictions during rush hour.
- Use a navigation app to find alternative roads
- Survey the road and your set-up location before opening dates.
If you’re a mobile truck or coffee stall, you will have to consider other factors that common brick-and-mortar cafes often don’t have any problems with. Here are a couple of things to consider.
- Taxes. Coffee stalls and mobile coffee shops are still taxable businesses. However, your registration might not be as straightforward as simply opening a cafe, since it’s a relatively uncommon business format in the country.
- Weather factors. Being a mobile shop means you’re more vulnerable to weather events such as rain and flood. Depending on the scale of the event, you might even have to shut down operations because of the weather.
- Vehicle maintenance. You need to keep your vehicle in top condition since you use it every day, and that means additional time and resources to keep your vehicle updated on its maintenance schedules.
- Finding the right coffee supplier. It can get a bit difficult to find a supplier that accepts the scale of coffee products that you need, especially since you’re somewhat halfway between a regular consumer and a big business such as a cafe.
- Security. Lastly, you’re going to have to think of security wherever you decide to pitch your tents. While it’s relatively uncommon, the possibility of being robbed or vandalized is still there, especially if you choose deserted locations.
A mobile coffee stall allows you to operate a cafe from a vehicle, such as a refurbished truck. With this, your business can save on startup and operational costs, be flexible on your location, and experiment with menu offerings much easier than a physical shop can.
Yes, a mobile coffee shop can be very profitable in the Philippines. For one, coffee is always in-demand; it’s just up to you to find the customers. There aren't many coffee trucks around yet, so you don’t have much competition – although you’ll need to find a way to take customers away from local and big-brand cafes.
The very first thing that you should do before starting any business is to carefully plan it out. You should do things such as conduct market research, get to know your industry, estimate the costs, and more. Once you have what you need, only then can you proceed with registering your business and acquiring assets.
A mobile coffee shop business is a great opportunity to make the most out of your love for this rich beverage. It’s rife with opportunities – competition is not that many, while the demand is steadily growing.
However, it can be quite complicated, especially if you don’t know what to do.
But you’re not going to have that problem because this guide has discussed everything you need to know. From the business profile of a mobile coffee shop to its advantages and disadvantages, up to the things that you do before launch – we’ve tackled it all.
All that’s left is for you to start on your journey! Good luck!