Trio hopes a special Airstream trailer and a Mass. Street parking lot can become Lawrence’s newest drive-thru coffee shop

photo by: Shutterstock

Lawrence is having a drive-thru coffee boom, and I’m not sure yet of all the impacts from it. (Is a double espresso a mitigating factor in a speeding ticket? How about a small bladder?)

Regardless, the latest planned entrant into Lawrence’s drive-thru coffee market is bringing some innovation to the scene. Instead of constructing a brand new building on a commercial lot, it hopes to win city approval to permanently park a specially equipped Airstream trailer on an existing parking lot along south Massachusetts Street.

That’s the idea behind Streamline Coffee, which hopes to locate in the parking lot of the former automotive repair shop at the northwest corner of 19th and Massachusetts streets. The people behind the idea are a trio of Lawrence architects who don’t think a new building is always the solution to every development issue.

“We are huge fans of prefabrication and low-impact building,” said Katie Hoke, who is opening Streamline Coffee with her two partners at Lawrence-based Hoke Ley Architects, Jared Hoke and Roy Ley.

Of course, they also are huge fans of coffee, and the idea that you should never have to go very far to find a quality cup of it.

You may think that Lawrence has a lot of coffee options, as Scooters has, or is in the process of, opening four new locations in Lawrence, 7 Brew has filed plans for two drive-thru locations, and the construction underway where the Cadillac Ranch bar once sat at Sixth and Crestline is for a new Starbucks.

But the Hokes came from Seattle, and Katie said the availability of primo, locally owned coffee shops is at a whole different level there.

“What is really great in Seattle is you can get the best coffee of your life about everywhere you go,” Katie said. “Every street corner, every mountain road, wherever we went, you could have this great treat of great coffee.”

Many times, that great coffee wasn’t served out of a brick-and-mortar building. Instead, food trucks, trailers and coffee carts were doing the work of a full-service coffee shop. That isn’t so much the case in Lawrence, but Katie said it could be.

The trio has filed plans at Lawrence City Hall to park a 16-foot Airstream Bambi trailer in the parking lot at 1843 Massachusetts Street. If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it recently was Mass Street Automotive, a shop that both repaired and sold vehicles. The site looks like a gas station from a different era because it indeed was built to be one in the 1950s.

The Airstream, which is being specially equipped for food and beverage service, will be under the old gas station canopy, and will get its utility service from the vacant building next to the canopy. The business will be drive-thru only.

photo by: Submitted: Katie Hoke

An Airstream trailer like the one shown would be used to house Streamline Coffee along south Massachusetts Street.

Katie told me the business hasn’t yet finalized a lease agreement for the site, but moved ahead with the city approval process because the trio is committed to doing the business somewhere, if not on that exact site.

“We are actually going to pick up the trailer this weekend,” she said.

She thinks the idea deserves serious consideration by the city because it is an example of “low impact urban infill development.” Such development doesn’t require much in the way of demolition or new construction, which can disturb the site or those around it. Such development also is generally cheaper for a new business.

If the city approves this project, it might open the door for others, and indeed Katie and her partners envision having several around town.

“I think there is so much potential because we already have so many parking lots in town,” she said.

It will be interesting to watch this project work its way through City Hall. The ease and lower start-up cost are pretty clear. But a key question will be whether existing food and beverage businesses that already have made the investment in a full-scale building will find the truck and trailer option to be an unfair competitor. How will it go over if the parking lots on the edge of downtown become filled with food and beverage trailers competing with the many downtown brick-and-mortar restaurants and coffee shops?

The city went through this several years ago with food truck operations. There was a desire to see more food trucks in the city by some, but also concerns from existing businesses. The city changed some of its ordinances that make it easier for a food truck to locate on a commercial property for a limited period of time, but I would say Lawrence doesn’t have the type of rules some cities have that have allowed for a much bigger fleet of food truck operations.

But I know what you coffee-lovers are thinking at this point. I can picture your fidgety finger pointing at me: Enough with the development talk. Get to the coffee already.

As for the menu, Katie said it is going to have a full-line offering of artisan coffee, both in hot and cold form. She said the business also is working to secure a deal with a local bakery to have fresh-made pastries and other treats. Plus, she wants to do something special in the summer: vintage ice cream treats. She mentioned items like Pink Panther ice cream treats, Bomb Pops and others.

Katie said the trio hopes to have the business open this summer, but that is dependent upon city approval and negotiations for the site.


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