Christine Clutton is taking the rollout of her Wild Way coffee camper concept one cup at a time, she said.
Debuting Friday in Midtown, the mobile shop — serving coffee, tea and pastries with a mix of Austin and local flavors — is envisioned as a temporary stop on Clutton’s entrepreneurial journey, she said.
“Our goal is to not go into debt on this, and we’ve done that so far,” the 26-year-old Leavenworth native said, noting a whirlwind nine months building the coffee camper with her husband, Jon, a researcher at the University of Kansas Medical Center. “The next step is a brick-and-mortar store.”
The 13-foot, retro-tinged Wild Way shop is expected to be open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, at 31st Street and Gillham Road, in a parking lot north of El Torreon, Clutton said. A future, permanently fixed location likely would be in the same general neighborhood, she hopes.
“Let’s just stay in one place. That’s what coffee is anyway,” Clutton said. “You get the regulars, you get your routine. Those are the bread and butter of your company as a coffee shop.”
Wild Way is set as one of the stops on this weekend’s Caffeine Crawl, which takes “crawlers” on a tour of area tea soms, coffee roasters, chocolatiers and other local artisan producers.
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Pointing the way north
Taking a cue from Clutton’s past, Wild Way prominently features drip and batch brew from Cuvee Coffee, an Austin roastery she managed for several years before returning to Kansas City in 2016.
“It just speaks to my soul. It’s what I drank for four years, and it’s what converted me to craft coffee,” she said. “So I have this nostalgia for it.”
“There’s already incredible coffee in this city for sure,” acknowledged Clutton, who formerly slung espresso at Thou Mayest in the Crossroads. “And it was a hard decision for me to use Austin coffee, but nostalgia wins out every day.”
Wild Way’s pour over bar, however, is set to feature local-only beans, she said. The station will use rotating variations from four fixed vendors: Oddly Correct, Thou Mayest, Repetition (Lawrence) and Blueprint (St. Louis).
The Cluttons initially considered launching the business in Austin, where they attended the University of Texas, but balked at the high cost of entry and abundance of competitors in the Texas capital city, she said.
“We started doing market research and I just wasn’t feeling it,” Clutton said. “If you’ve ever been to Austin, you know coffee is everywhere. You can throw a rock and hit like 10 coffee shops. It obviously tastes great and everything, but it’s already oversaturated.”
With parents still in Kansas and her husband ready to finish graduate school and find a job, the timing seemed right for a change, she said.
“And we felt like Kansas City was a much more open market for small business. You don’t need as much big money backing you to get in,” she said. “It was like everything was pointing us north.”
It takes a village
Rolling a coffee camper into Midtown Kansas City wasn’t exactly Clutton’s plan when she began studying marketing and international business in Texas, she said.
“My dream was to work at Starbucks corporate in their corporate marketing department — and then I went to Kenya one summer on an internship,” she said. “I saw the coffee production there. I saw the people’s livelihood being dependent on this commodity that they had no control over. They actually were being totally taken advantage of because the middlemen were getting all the profits and the farmers were essentially getting nothing, barely breaking even if anything.”
Because the system was so corrupt, the villagers were forced to take dramatic steps to improve their circumstances, she said.
“They actually had to completely strip out all of their coffee farms, which take a long time to develop, and then plant tea because tea was a more sustainable and a more fair commodity at that time,” Clutton said.
The experience called her to pay more attention to the details, she said, and upon her return she shifted her studies to more sustainability-based business practices, like using ethically sourced coffee beans.
Launching Wild Way this spring, she also is mindful of the roasting process’ end, she said. Clutton plans to compost the shop’s coffee grounds at nearby Longfellow Farm, a community garden near 30th Street and Troost Avenue.