Amidst a down economy, it is refreshing to hear a success story, especially when that story began right here in Santa Monica and involves one of the most competitive and cutthroat industries around — the beverage business.
“I don’t think we could have launched this if we didn’t live together because this was an around-the-clock ordeal,” says Elan Eifer, referring to his roommate, Brian McCaslin.
Elan and Brian are the founders of Coco Café (www.drinkcococafe.com), a coconut water-based espresso drink which was created in their beachside apartment.
“I’m living this real chill lifestyle, then Brian moves in and he’s a real project guy, and that’s how it all started,” Elan explains.
Living right off the beach, Elan naturally spent many of his mornings surfing. Beforehand, he would mix a blend of coconut water, espresso and milk, which gave him a good balance of hydration, energy and sustenance to hit the waves.
Serendipity through Craigslist, Brian moved in, liked what Elan was drinking and helped transform his morning breakfast regimen into a brand new business venture.
At the time, coconut water was the latest craze to hit store shelves. (Merrill Lynch notes that within five years, the U.S. coconut water industry went from zero to $35 million.) Fans of the drink themselves, Elan and Brian also noticed that people were buying it by the case. There were many fruit flavored variations of coconut water, but no one had tried to add coffee to the mix. Realizing that the flavors of coconut water and coffee seemed as natural as peanut butter and jelly, the two then positioned themselves to bring something new to the market.
“So often people have ideas of things that are already out there. It was interesting, we saw this little opening, so we just set out to do it,” says Elan.
Of course starting a beverage business is a little more complex than starting your own lemonade stand. Major facets of the industry range from sales, to marketing, to branding, to bottling (in their case boxing), and the mother of logistical nightmares, distribution.
“We self distributed out of my Smart Car,” Elan recalls. “Pulling in and out of the loading docks, people definitely laughed at us.”
While using a Smart Car, which is about the size of a golf cart, for distribution may seem like trying to put out a brush fire with a tea cup, but their orders were not so large in the beginning. Elan recounts that the Smart Car was actually a good work horse. It was able to carry up to 30 cases of Coco Café and was easy to maneuver through the city streets. As ridiculous as a Smart Car delivery truck may seem, it is certainly a testament to Elan’s and Brian’s commitment to their business. The public took to their brand, and their business began to grow.
Recently, the larger Vita Coco acquired a large stake in Coco Café. The acquisition has helped Coco Café with marketing, distribution and ingredient sourcing. It has not had an impact on the actual product, but has made it easier for them to compete with big business, such as the Starbucks bottled drinks. It also allows Elan more time to surf.
Times are tough but business is indeed still alive. Ideas and opportunities are still out there and Coco Café is a prime example. Two local guys who still run their operations out of their bachelor pad down by the beach, turning their dreams into a reality should give hope to the multitudes, or at the least, a tasty coconut water-based, espresso-infused beverage.
Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food, or on CityTV hosting his own show, "Tour de Feast." To reach him visit his website at tourdefeast.net or follow him on Twitter @TourDeFeastSM.