The history of Camper Coffee, Devon’s favourite mobile coffee shop
PUBLISHED: 17:25 09 July 2018
Whether it’s from a 1960s’ camper van or a shipping container, the guys at Camper Coffee can rustle up a hot drink anywhere | Words: Catherine Courtenay | Photos: Mike Southon
Imagine pitching up on a sunny beach in a vintage van, a view of Atlantic rollers straight ahead of you, then listening to live music while you make coffee for appreciative festival goers.
Gary Williams admits that being at Boardmasters, the Cornish surf and music event, is one of the highlights of his year.
Gary, along with business partner Paul Maddick, run Camper Coffee, a mobile coffee company noted for its 1964 split screen camper van.
Launched in 2013 from their home town of Crediton, Camper now also has three permanent shop sites, at Crediton Leisure Centre, Exeter University and at McCoys Arcade in Exeter.
“The idea started off when I went to a festival and queued for ages to get a coffee which ended up being shocking. I couldn’t understand why it was so bad,” says Gary.
It took a little while, but Gary acquired an old VW; then Paul came onboard after building a website for the new venture.
Their first outing was a wedding fair at Buckerell Lodge. Gary recalls that they had no coffee machines, so it was all done in a pourover (filter) method and, “it was a disaster”.
“In the beginning we had no foresight, no planning. It was like: ‘Let’s get a van and do some coffee!’.”
Gary had given up a managerial job at The Range to become a travelling barista. “I’d spent 14 years in an office and it was a shock to the system to come outdoors!”
Starting Camper Coffee was a tough decision. “We both put our life savings on the line,” says Gary. But they threw themselves into it, perfecting their brew and their business.
Gary says one of his first jobs involved travelling to a festival in Cardiff (at 28mph!), where he served coffee continuously for four days – with one hour’s sleep, before driving all the way home again.
“The first time I did a long run I realised it may be beneficial from a sanity point of view to have a coffee shop!” he says.
Now, as well as the shops, they run pitches at Sandy Park, home to the Exeter Chiefs and last year they went big – with a shipping container, cleverly converted to hold a row of coffee serving stations. It made its first outing at Glastonbury Festival.
Gary credits many local companies and individuals with helping Camper achieve its success and he says their staff team is the most important part of the business.
He also firmly believes in trying out ideas, giving things a go, while you can - he’s a ‘life’s got to be lived because you never know what’s around the corner’ kind of guy.
And he still finds time to enjoy being out on the van. “I think my favourite gig is Boardmasters: it’s in Cornwall; you’re on the beach; the views are amazing - and I know when I finish I’ll be off on holiday!”
Find out more about Camper Coffee here.