Husband and wife duo Nick and Lori Bollinger have traded in the more traditional brick-and-mortar notions associated with owning a coffee shop for something a bit more mobile—a lot more, actually. Instead of having customers travel to one firmly rooted spot for coffee, the Bollingers established Junction Coffee to personally bring caffeine to their customers via a fully operational, vintage double-decker bus. With a huge vision for community involvement, the Junction bus pops up all over Oklahoma City to build new relationships wherever they are serving coffee for the day.
“A junction is a place where two or more things meet or are joined,” says Nick Bollinger. “We wanted to create a place where different people from all different walks of life can come together to feel welcomed and valued.”
British by birth, the bright red bus is two-story charm on wheels, inviting everyone from schoolteachers to construction workers inside for a coffee break. After ordering their drink of choice on the bottom floor, customers can walk up the narrow stairwell to the second story to sit and chat awhile. The top floor seating area is entirely encased by windows, making it a bright, beautiful place to sip and gaze out at the city skyline.
Before Junction Coffee came to be, owning a coffee shop had been the long-time dream job for the Bollingers. They used to walk along the downtown Oklahoma City canal together, eating ice cream and talking about what it might be like to bring people together over coffee. And then one day they drove by a double-decker bus parked in front of a mechanic shop, and the idea came to both of them at the same time: a mobile cafe.
“We stopped the car and went inside the mechanic shop where we met Rick Miller, the nation’s premiere double-decker bus mechanic who happens to live right here in our city,” shares Nick Bollinger. “He was able to connect us with a place in the United Kingdom to import our own bus.”
But the process of actually getting their bus to America was lengthy and full of red tape. After weaving through all kinds of EPA vehicle importation restrictions, it was a long five months of negotiating and coordinating with eight different governing organizations before the bus finally arrived at the docks in Norfolk, Virginia, all the way from Liverpool, England. Along with Miller, their trusted-mechanic-turned-new-friend, the Bollingers flew out to pick up the bus and then drove it the 1,400 miles home. Somewhere along the road back to Oklahoma, they christened the double-decker with the nickname “Maebelle”.
Originally built in 1974, Maebelle spent nearly twenty years of her life as a public transportation vehicle in London. After that she bounced around among preservation societies and private collectors until (appropriately enough) beginning the third wave of her life as a mobile coffee shop. Before Maebelle was ready to meet customers, however, the Bollingers had to refurbish both the first and second story interiors to meet the needs of a cafe. The windows and two-person seats are original, but almost everything else had to be 100% customized to fit the quirky parameters of the bus.
“From April to September we got up in the heat of the summer and worked every day, all day. We learned to do everything from welding steel and laying tile to building cabinets and countertops,” says Lori Bollinger. “There was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, literally—Nick drilled partly through his finger at one point. But it was all so worth it when we finished.”
After the grand opening in the early fall of 2015, Junction quickly amassed quite a fandom around its unique concept and high-quality coffee. Junction almost exclusively features local roasters—mainly Mariposa Coffee Roastery and EÔTÉ Coffee Company—as part of their commitment to supporting the Oklahoma City community. They use a Compak E10 grinder and pull espresso on a Unic Stella di Caffè, while also batch brewing from a FETCO. There are a few from-scratch syrup options Lori Bollinger makes every week, with monthly specials like peppermint or blood-orange. For light snacking, they also offer locally baked gourmet toasts piled with local produce and spreads like honey-almond goat cheese. And keeping in line with their ethically responsible practices, every cup, plate, lid, and sleeve is 100% compostable.
Announcing where Maebelle will be located on any given week through Instagram and Facebook, the Bollingers like to appear where they can meet and serve large groups of people, like at farmers' markets, Oklahoma City’s civic center, 5k runs that benefit charities, or busy cross-streets.
“Our job is to become best friends with the entire city, and it’s awesome,” Nick Bollinger says. “We get to meet a huge spectrum of people,” Lori Bollinger adds. “The bus is a really intimate setting, and sometimes we get to sit and talk to people for hours. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend our time.”
Tiffany Duncan is a freelance writer based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is her first feature for Sprudge.