With his espresso cart set up at the entrance of the Bellevue Hyatt ballroom this week, Bob Groonis was in a familiar setting.
But Groonis’ cart can be found in a variety of places beyond hotels — teacher and staff appreciations at schools, symposiums, store grand openings, weddings, anniversaries, parties, church functions and even bar/bat mitzvahs.
On the Island, Groonis has served up coffee at Herzl-Ner Tamid, the Boys & Girls Club, Shore Club, Mercer Island High School, elementary schools and private homes.
Groonis started his business, COFFEES a la CART, 18 years ago. He drives a white van painted with a black bow tie logo and business name. He trailers his equipment — the cart gets loaded onto a trailer.
This week at the Hyatt, he was serving Microsoft executives and spouses during the CIO Summit. Next on his schedule was a plant sale in North Seattle. He caters primarily within King County, but has gone as far as Bellingham and Olympia.
“A lot of folks will use us as an incentive — morale, you know — coffee is king, and so when you have a meeting, it’s a way of bringing people in; it’s a way of offering them this service,” Groonis said.
Four part-time baristas are employed when needed, and even Groonis’ family is involved. His wife, Nancy, sometimes serves as a barista. The couple lives in a neighborhood west of Island Crest Park. Their daughter, Mindy, who graduated from MIHS, also helps out occasionally.
“My son, when he was in high school, was helping me, and in college when he was home,” Groonis said. Eric Groonis is now working for the United Nations refugee program, UNHCR, in Africa.
The espresso cart offers coffee from Caffe Luca Coffee Roasters — lattes, mochas, cappuccinos, Americanos, dip coffee and decaf.
“This particular guy sells to a lot of high-end restaurants,” Groonis said. “His quality is excellent. Nothing against Starbucks, but Starbucks is a whole different flavor and taste.”
COFFEES a la CART has been using Caffe Luca for five years. It’s a classic Italian roast, not over-roasted, and does not have any oily finish, Groonis said.
Ice drinks, teas, Italian sodas and hot chocolate are also available, along with cookies, bagels and pastries. For those who can’t drink milk, soy and almond milk are available. Kosher service is also offered.
“Most of our business is hosted. We have a two-hour minimum and our prices reflect the amount of people that we serve and how long we offer the service,” Groonis said.
Before Groonis entered the world of coffee, he was a salesman who represented women’s clothing manufacturers such as Gottschalks and Alex Coleman.
“Eventually I got into the coffee business,” Groonis said. “That was when the carts were just getting involved on the street. You could go downtown, on the corner, and buy an espresso. Now you can’t do that — they don’t have that anymore. Now they’ve got Starbucks.”
For more information, go to www.COFFEESalaCART.com or call (206) 232-2692.