Elmhurst Windows.

When COVID decimated local entrepreneur Ben Morrison’s event planning business, a passion for coffee led him to establish a fleet of mobile cafés keeping the Manchester community caffeinated through lockdown.

So Ben, of course we know you from We Are Events, so  how did the idea for Smart Bar come about?

Setting up a café of my own has always been a dream of mine. I’ve always loved great coffee, investing in fancy barista equipment at home and at the office. For me, a good coffee is the perfect start to any day – mine is a double espresso which puts a real spring in my step! Café culture has really taken off as an industry over the last decade and you only have to look at the high street to see how many new coffee shops are around.

When the world crashed in March 2020, I felt I had to do something. I realised there was a need for premium fresh coffee, teas and hot chocolates from both businesses and home workers as their local coffee shops remained shut through lockdown. I’ve always been someone who lives life on-the-go, so it just made sense for me to set up a new business.

At that point I never planned for it to be a serious venture, I just wanted a hobby to keep me busy and out of the house. When I first bought that Smart Car and began converting it into a mobile coffee stand one Saturday night, never in a million years would I have thought that within months I’d need to buy three more cars and hire staff to keep up with the growth.

What has the reception been like?

Through the other businesses that I run, I’ve realised it is always important to be led by people’s opinions and make sure that we appeal to the masses. Our customers have very much dictated the way our menu has gone and the locations we attend. We now offer a varied menu appealing to as many people as possible, including a variety of milks and sweet treats catering to different dietary needs.

I think it is a testament to the brand that there is clearly a demand for a local quality service and people are keen to treat themselves in these challenging times we’re all going through. Especially at the weekends, it is becoming a routine for the community to grab a hot drink from our cars when they’re out seeing friends on socially distanced walks, as this is one of the few things that you can do! 

What does the future hold for the business?

I feel we are at the beginning of an exciting journey and we’re looking forward to some exciting growth in 2021. I’ve set myself targets for a larger fleet of vehicles to start spreading into more cities throughout the UK including London, while saturating the Manchester market.

Earlier this month we agreed a contract with Manchester-based boiling water tap business, Quooker, to support them throughout 2021 and service over 5,000 of their distributors. We’ve rebranded our vehicles with the Quooker logo and will visit the businesses offering complimentary hot drinks, waffles and pancakes as a welcome. This has opened our eyes to corporate partnership opportunities which we are so pleased to now explore – this is only the start.

Seeing what started as just a passion turn into a fully-fledged business has completely blown me away. I can’t thank customers, friends and the local community enough for the support they have given in allowing Smart Bar to grow as rapidly as it has, but also keeping me grounded. Like the coffee!