Happy Camper Coffee brings different approach to coffee shops in Grand Forks region
Having a coffee shop has been a long time dream for Stephenie Schiller, who owns the Happy Camper Coffee, a mobile coffee shop
GRAND FORKS — Having a coffee shop has been a long-time dream for Stephenie Schiller, who owns the Happy Camper Coffee, a mobile coffee shop that has made its way around Grand Forks since October.
“Ever since I was little I feel like coffee has been a really big part of (my) life and (my) family,” Schiller said. “I’ve always loved how coffee just brings people together and how you can have really good conversations and connect with each other.”
After graduating college Schiller worked in retail as she kept her goal of owning a coffee shop in mind. In 2018, Schiller's dad, Steve Huot, died unexpectedly from a heart attack.
“When that had happened I feel like through grief and all of that stuff it just kind of puts your life into perspective a little bit,” she said. “I took time to grieve, but then it was like ‘hey you live one life. I’ve been saying for eight years now that I want to have a coffee shop or work in coffee, but I wasn’t necessarily working towards it.’”
Schiller started attending a coffee academy at True Stone Coffee Roasters based out of St. Paul on the weekends to learn more about coffee. She then started working part-time at The Ember and was later recruited to be a store manager at Starbucks in March of 2020.
While Schiller was already building a business plan for her own coffee shop around that time, she said she is thankful she was recruited to work at Starbucks when COVID hit as the pandemic would have likely overtaken her business.
In January of last year, Schiller said her passion of opening up a coffee shop was sparked again.
“I started looking at spaces and I just felt like rent was really high,” Schiller said. “I took a different approach and I was trying to think of how can we be mobile? I know location is key, but how can we be mobile where we’re able to move around throughout Grand Forks and other smaller communities like Crookston or Thompson?”
Schiller said she started looking at horse trailers along with campers to turn into a mobile coffee shop. She got inspiration from Pinterest and reached out to other mobile coffee shops across the country to get answers to her questions.
“I liked the idea of being able to start a little smaller, start mobile and do it out of a camper to start instead of committing to a lease and signing off on all that kind of stuff,” she said.
A few months after getting ideas, Schiller bought a 1971 trailblazer camper in April with the goal of completely transforming it.
“When we bought it we were really looking for something that needed to be torn apart," she said. "We didn’t want to buy a beautiful camper that we were just going to tear into so we found one that was pretty beaten up a little bit.”
While optimistic that renovations inside the camper could be completed within a month, a lot of work went into renovating the camper to get it ready to serve as a mobile coffee shop.
Schiller and her husband, Jake, were able to work on renovations at first. They were then able to get help from friends who work at Leisureland RV to rebuild the camper.
“It was a lot of work,” Schiller said. “That camper was completely gutted from redoing the flooring, the sides and everything.”
Renovations wrapped up in September and Happy Camper Coffee opened up the next month. Schiller said a “stick figure Steve” was placed on the door as a way to remember her dad, who “loved coffee probably more than all of us. Plus, we know he would have loved to have been here for this adventure too.”
In the four months that Happy Camper Coffee has been open, Schiller said business has been good.
“I was nervous obviously being in North Dakota, Minnesota and having our winters and how they are,” she said. “I have been so pleasantly surprised at how steady we've been through these colder months and that we've been able to just build a loyal customer base that follows us from place to place. Then also we get to pop up at different businesses and make their day as well.”
Along with posting where Happy Camper Coffee is going to be on Facebook and Instagram, Schiller said she’s also seen a lot of customers spreading the word about the business to others.
“You get so nervous that no one's gonna be there, but people have been and that's been awesome. Hopefully they feel connected to us too (with) the joy and happiness and love and care that we put into it as well.”
Some of the places Happy Camper Coffee has set up include local small businesses, schools, and health care buildings. Schiller said she’s had a lot of businesses reach out to her about parking in their space and she’ll also post on social media to see what openings there are.
When nothing is lined up, Schiller said she has connected with Hope Church and is able to park in that area.
In addition to selling coffee around Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Happy Camper Coffee has also traveled to Crookston and Thompson. Schiller plans to travel to more regional towns once the weather warms up.
Other than serving coffee, lattes and espressos, Happy Camper Coffee also sells acai bowls along with baked goods from the Turtle River Baking Co.
Schiller is looking to hire baristas as she is expecting twins this spring.
In the future Schiller said her goal is to open a physical coffee shop, but plans to keep the camper as well.
"We always plan on keeping our camper available and moving," she said. "I love that we get to go serve..."