If you pull into an Arlington Metro station and follow the aroma of coffee, you may find a humble coffee cart on wheels just outside. Behind the cart, a GW student is ready to serve you handcrafted coffee, botanical tea or homestyle baked goods.
Cam Waggener, a senior majoring in environmental studies, opened Wheelys Cafe Arlington, a coffee cart he parks outside the Clarendon and Courthouse Metro stations that is open four days a week, last month. Waggener roasts the coffee beans himself from his home in Georgetown and bakes fresh breads and other baked goods to sell each day.
Waggener came up with the idea for a coffee cart his sophomore year, and by his junior year, he set the plan in motion. Waggener studied abroad in Bolivia and Ecuador and learned about a Swedish start-up company called Wheelys that sells bicycles fully equipped for cafes with all of the equipment to brew coffee and serve customers.
When Waggener returned to the states, he began saving money to purchase a bicycle and open his own cafe.
“I was interested in starting an entrepreneurial sort of endeavor,” Waggener said.
The cart is attached to a bike that includes a white frame and countertop to store baked items, an assortment of teas and colorful signs with the day’s coffee selection. When Waggener is done for the day, the cart folds up on the front of the bike, which he can then ride home.
Due to costs and complications with permits in D.C., Waggener sets up shop near Metro stations in Virginia.
In order to operate a Wheelys coffee cart, Waggener had to purchase the cart from the company and must continually pay a monthly fee that allows him to use the brand and get support with marketing and operations from the worldwide company.
Last year, Waggener began experimenting with coffee roasting techniques in his dorm room in Shenkman Hall. He said he found that his roasting methods produced better tasting and more flavorful products than chain coffee shops.
“I started really discovering how to roast coffee and make it taste much better than coffee at Starbucks or any other one of those chains that has to homogenize or industrialize their process to make it feasible on a large scale,” Waggener said.
The cafe-on-wheels sells 100 percent organic, fair trade coffee. His signature drink is fresh drip single-origin coffee, meaning it is sourced from either Nicaragua or Simatra. Waggener currently sources the coffee beans through a supplier but in the future, he said he hopes to buy directly from farmers in those countries.
“I like that with the fresh drip origin coffee,” Waggener said. “It’s pour over, so it’s like almost a show for the customer.”
Waggener said he recommends that customers try the coffee black, without cream or sugar, so they can taste the rich flavor. He said he also serves spiced coffee with cardamom and cloves ground up with the beans for a “perkier” flavor.
Wheelys Cafe Arlington serves a variety of botanical teas, in flavors like lavender earl grey and lemon ginger, and an assortment of baked goods, including his mom’s recipe for banana bread.
“It’s my mom’s recipe so it’s really good,” Waggener said.
Waggener said running a business in addition to being a student can be overwhelming, and that he looks forward to being able to commit his full attention to the cafe after graduation.
He plans to continue to run the cart for at least another two years to save money for traveling the world. After that, Waggener said he is open to expanding the business, potentially acquiring more bicycle shops or renting a storefront.
“I think coffee drinkers around the world deserve to know what’s behind their cup of coffee, and also how good it can be,” Waggener said.