Image Source: supplied by Que Sera Sera Coffee
It’s been said that hospitality is an industry that only the truly passionate thrive in. For Hobart-born mobile coffee van Que Sera Sera, that passion comes from a genuine desire to make people’s lives a little bit better, even if it’s with something as simple as a hot cup of coffee.
Sonya Lovell, co-founder of the business, shares the story of how what started out as determination to help her daughter, became a model that aims to help the less fortunate.
What will be, will be
That’s the mantra that Sonya (or Sonn as she calls herself), started living by since her daughter Bronn, born with Down Syndrome, was a baby.
Like all families coping with a disability, Sonya and Bronn both faced certain challenges as Bronn grew up. As with all parents who want the best for their children, the idea of getting into business came to Sonya as a way to a future where Bronn could have a fair go.
“It was around the time when Bronn was about to graduate high-school and head to college that we started thinking about her future. We both toyed around with the idea of starting a coffee van type business back then,” said Sonya, a trained barista.
Post college, and after completing a course in hospitality, Bronn started her foray into the industry at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed in the Huon Valley, Tasmania. It was only when Bronn started working in the ‘real world’ that other issues came into play that made the decision to start their own business much more necessary.
“Going through the Supported Wage System meant that Bronn could only receive a certain percentage of the minimum pay rate, based on her assessed work capacity,” said Sonya.
“But if we’ve got our own business, Bronn can work alongside me, be a partner, and have the chance to make as much money as she wants. Starting a mobile coffee van is as challenging as the next business, but it was a no brainer for us given that Bronn loves meeting people and learning new skills, and I love coffee and driving,” she said.
Setting the wheels in motion
The mother-daughter duo really started to make headway into their business plans when Sonya approached John, a Sydney-based custom food truck and coffee van builder who’s done bespoke vehicle fitouts for the likes of Tamar Valley Dairy, and Sydney-based Gelatony and Nonna’s Piada.
But a number of setbacks they faced while setting up the business was what spurred the bigger idea of helping others.
The original van they were going to purchase, which was equipped and ready to go, got pulled out from under them 20 hours before they were going sign the contract, leaving them without any operating premises or equipment (at which point they turned to John). And then, there was the administrative battle they faced obtaining financing to purchase a new van and getting it customised to their preferences.
Facing these challenges and more, it occurred to Sonya one night that there were probably thousands of other people like them who were in disadvantaged situations, and who just needed a break.
“I literally woke up at 3am thinking about everything we had gone through, and I thought, there must be an easier way for people in our situation to get into business. And I started thinking about what I could do to help.”
And so, the idea of ‘Pouring it Forward’ was born.
A fully mobile coffee van with a twist
Que Sera Sera Coffee is not your everyday coffee business. While Sonya and Bronn drive their van around Tasmania delivering coffee to workplaces, markets, festivals and events (pretty much wherever coffee is needed), they’re also taking orders online for virtual cups of coffee others can pay for to go towards the needy.
Here’s how it works.
Anyone can visit Que Sera Sera’s website, and purchase a virtual coffee for $4. That purchased cup of coffee is then ‘banked’ and Sonya and Bronn then deliver a real cup of coffee to nominated charity events throughout the year, including luncheons for the homeless, kids or family fun days and so on.
Every purchased cup of virtual coffee gets delivered to a person in need, and $1 from each goes into a ‘Future Entrepreneurs Fund’ Sonya is setting up to help individuals like Bronn get their shot at starting a business.
“We’re building up a Future Entrepreneurs Fund to include ‘packages’ of money (from $500 to $5000) which will go towards helping people that are younger and with a disability or are less fortunate on their pathways to fulfilling their entrepreneurial dreams,” Sonya said.
“They can put the package they receive towards a study course, or a downpayment to secure business equipment for example. Many of the vulnerable in our society – the ones who need a helping hand the most – have to work even harder than most to achieve their dreams. This is a cause that’s very close to our hearts and we’re looking forward to helping disadvantaged people get the headstart they need,” she said.
Fighting the good fight
In keeping with her ethos of enabling easier business (particularly among the smaller or more disadvantaged players), Sonya looked to implement technology in Que Sera Sera that’s not only easy for her and Bronn to use, but also offers a smooth payment experience for their customers. That included using an iPad as their point of sale, and CommBank’s Albert tablet for EFTPOS transactions.
She also emphasises the importance of buying local and establishing partnerships with their immediate business community.
For example, Que Sera Sera Coffee uses milk from Udderly Tasmanian, a local dairy business that processes its dairy products minimally, resulting in mouth-wateringly delicious milk that’s sold at a reasonable price.
“It makes sense to buy locally, and advocate the produce and goods produced in and around your area. By supporting your local producers, you’re helping to reduce the carbon emissions in the supply chain (less fuel to transport products further distances and less packaging), which benefits us all.”
“Initially, Bronn and I started this business so that we can both do what we love, and it was a chance for her to make a fair amount of money and have a better life in future. But it’s just become so much bigger than that,” Sonya said.
“It’s certainly been our dream to start Que Sera Sera Coffee. And in time to come, I hope that our humble coffee van will turn into a fleet of mobile businesses that operate all around Australia, bringing comforting coffees to those who need it most and helping individuals make their dreams happen.”