Gas, brake, sip—the routine of those stuck in the daily traffic jams that snarl their way through the middle of Saint Petersburg, Russia. You, as a loyal Sprudge reader, obviously remember the story from A Guide To Good Coffee In Saint Petersburg in which we featured the Hey, Coffee! project, but to jog your memory: Hey, Coffee! is about delivering freshly brewed coffee right to your car through a team of roadside “coffee hawkers”. The brand has a chain of three traffic-jam cafe cars and three more conventional cafe locations. While two of the trucks are stationary, the third one migrates depending on traffic conditions.
So what’s on the menu? You can choose from espresso, americano, cappuccino, latte or a couple of signature drinks with chocolate or coconut syrups. On average, one Hey, Coffee! point serves around 200-300 drinks per day. Filter coffee joins this list in the winter months. Hungry? Sandwiches and pastries are also among the offerings, delivered right to your car.
Among the coffee saviors who roam in-between the traffic trapped cars in search of caffeine-striving people are young and swift-handed guys, mainly students who still have that young energy flowing. I mustered up the shady hints of my athletic skills and managed to catch and interview one of the coffee hawkers—Valeriy Morozov.
Is it your main job or a side one?
I am a student, so this is a side job for me.
How did you hear about Hey, Coffee! and what encouraged you to apply?
My father was the first one who told me about Hey, Coffee! He saw the guys selling coffee in traffic jams, which I thought was a great idea. That was all the romance of the first encounter. Then came the summer, and a part-time job was what I needed. My friend mentioned he was working for Hey, Coffee! and I couldn’t get away this time. It was a good choice: I had fun, made money, and learned how to brew coffee, which was my real craving.
What did they teach you apart from that? Did you have any special training?
Sure, it’s all about training. First of all, selling coffee in traffic jams involves not so many people, but our interactions should be flawless, so the training gives you the time gap necessary to tune in. As for the technical part, on my first shift I was instructed how to sell in condition of traffic jams, i.e. which spots are most sales-loyal and some other rules. But they were very logical and simple—10 minutes and you are a learned hawker.
So how does it all work? What’s in that trip of a cup?
The base is our car, where we have all the equipment installed. I take several to-go cups with freshly brewed coffee (I start off with a set of cappuccinos), put them in a special container which prevents the drinks from getting cold and start off into the thick of a traffic jam. The challenge is that I have only eight minutes to sell the coffees. For some of the drivers a cup of their favorite drink is a blessing from a traffic/coffee god, while others need some enlightenment. When the time is up, coffees go to waste and I go back to the barista with the received orders (if any).
What do you like most about your job?
Well, there’s a lot of things… The sales drive, the adrenaline burst when you are rushing to sell all the drinks before they get cold, the competitive spirit electrifying the hawkers who are trying to hit the shift record. I also adore the population of the traffic jams: surprisingly, they are often in their most laid-back condition and give away Hollywood smiles. And my colleagues are the best bunch of guys I have ever met.
And what’s the worst part?
Failing to sell your coffees. It’s a rare case, though.
Any fun stories to share?
They happen all of the time—there could even be a couple of them during a single shift. Once I was making my way into the depth of the traffic jam with two cappuccinos in hand. Finally I heard a honk. When I came up to the driver, he wondered whether the coffees were hot enough. The quality test was successfully passed, and I had only one more cap to sell. I continued my hunt and I heard the honk again—it came from the same driver. He paid for the last cappuccino and asked me to give it to the lady who was driving in front of him. I got to see that couple one more time later. But this time the gentleman was wondering if I had some sweets or a decent bouquet.