The next time you make fun of Twitter, think about Josh Calhoon, owner of Café Van Go. His coffee trailer is parked at the Bookmans at Grant Road and Campbell Avenue. When Calhoon started his business last year, he was parked on a vacant lot off Ruthrauff Road—but then a Bookmans' executive with the Twitter account EspressoJunky discovered Calhoon's Café Van Go tweets. You can follow him on Twitter, too, at CafeVanGo, or become a fan on Facebook at Van Go Coffee.
A friend told me you're an award-winning barista. How does one become an award-winning barista?
There are barista competitions that happen every year. ... I won the Southwest regional.
Did you enter on your own?
Well, kind of. Some shops will sponsor someone, but this time, I entered on my own, although a coffee company ended up supplying me with their coffee and one of their machines for the competition. ... Before I even had this business open, a buddy of mine talked me into going to Las Vegas. It was challenging. I didn't even have a machine to practice on.
How long after that did you start your business?
Not long, really; about a year. I had started researching coffee the past few years. I decided to go to this coffee school in Portland (Ore.) that teaches you about coffee and how to make drinks the right way.
Was the goal to strike out on your own and do your own business?
Yeah, I owned my own business before this. For seven or eight years, I was an independent distributor for a bread company in town.
I've been drinking coffee since I was 8 years old. I liked it, and the only way I could drink it was if I made coffee for my dad, too. He said if I wanted coffee, I'd have to make him a cup in the morning.
But you weren't making espresso, like you are now. Why this kind of coffee?
I couldn't find a place in town that made a cup of coffee I liked, until I found out there's this whole other area of coffee. In Portland, I learned about how to make traditional coffees, none of this foo-foo blended stuff. Macchiatos, for example: Starbucks tainted the name and makes macchiatos that aren't really macchiatos. At coffee school, I made drinks all day for a couple of days with all different kinds of machines the school provided. I got hooked, and they've helped me every step of the way.
How did Bookmans recruit you?
I had my own personal Twitter account, and I would just Twitter about coffee. I have this special coffee brewer that brews all the hot coffees by the cup, so I carry at least four to five different coffees. ... I started Twittering what coffees I had. I think that's how they found me. One of the Bookmans execs, his Twitter account is EspressoJunky. That's how they found me. He and Bob (Bookman) came out and talked to me about coming out here.
I heard you take payment in Bookmans credit slips (in addition to cash). How does that work?
Basically, you come out and tell me what you want, and I'll tell you what it costs. While they are inside getting their slip from book trades or their credit ... I'm making their coffee. I cash those in at the end of the day or week.
I love it.
It really works well. ... I have one lady that has a hundred and some dollars of store credit, and she comes by three or four times a week. She comes by and says, "Hi, I'll take my usual," goes inside to get her slip, and I have coffee waiting for her.
You could be here a while, I guess until the Grant Road project starts.
I remember them talking about (widening Grant Road) eight years ago. I remember getting my first tattoo across the street, and they were thinking they were going to lose their tattoo shop, and here it is. Everyone is still here.
Wouldn't it would be great for this Bookmans to move downtown?
We could really use them there, and we could use a good coffee place downtown, too.
Now that you're an award-winning barista, and you went to coffee school, is it OK to call you a purist?
Yeah, I'd say I'm a purist, but not a snob. I try to explain why we do what we do. ... People who try ... my espresso shots learn that when something is done right, it's good. My espresso is like candy.