Meet the New Owner of the Coffee Trike

Boston's pedal-powered espresso bar rolls on, thanks to bicycle backer Brad Pillen.

Brad Pillen and the Coffee Trike

Brad Pillen and the Coffee Trike. / Photo by Kate Preftakes Photography

The Coffee Trike, the caffeinating cart San Bellino pedaled into Dewey Square and our hearts a few years ago, is back on Boston’s streets under new ownership. After he took it off the road late last year to focus on the Leather District coffee shop he cofounded with Gracenote Coffee, Bellino has sold the Coffee Trike to Brad Pillen.

Pillen debuted the Coffee Trike at a new location earlier this month, the corner of Park and Tremont streets at Boston Common. He’ll park it there several days a week, and every other Sunday, he’ll bring it out during the SoWa Open Market.

The Detroit native and bicycle advocate moved to Boston about four years ago with a desire to get involved in the community, he says. “Helping to build the ‘bike economy’ is something I have a strong interest in,” says Pillen, an active member of Boston Cyclists Union and a member of the CommonWheels board of directors. “In an urban environment, especially in Boston, there are a lot of people and different groups using bikes for everyday, practical applications of business, or whatever it might be. That’s what I’m trying to be a part of.”

He left the Live Blue Service Initiative, an environmental volunteer group based at the New England Aquarium, to take on this project. He has previous experience as a farmers’ market manager, and with CitySprouts, a Boston and Cambridge public school garden program. “I’m driven to connect people to where their food comes from,” Pillen says. “When the opportunity to purchase the Coffee Trike arose, I couldn’t have imagined a better way to marry these disconnected, but related concepts.”

The coffee aspect is where there’s more of a learning curve, though Pillen had an interest in and a taste for quality espresso, he says. Bellino remains a minority shareholder in the Coffee Trike and has been instrumental in Pillen’s training, not only on the cart’s unique operation, but also in coffee culture more generally, he says. The Coffee Trike still sources its beans from Gracenote Coffee, Patrick Barter’s Berlin, Mass.-based roastery. It was the company’s first Boston-area account.

Not returning to the site where the Coffee Trike built its following was a practical decision. The Dewey Square vendor’s permit had a fall 2015 deadline for proposals, but the city was vetting candidates for the Boston Common location over the winter, once Pillen was in talks with Bellino.

But it’s also something both baristas agreed upon, Pillen says. “The trike has been so much associated with San since he’s the one who started it up and ran for a few years. With Gracenote being so close by and with me still continuing to serve Gracenote, a new location made sense all around.”

Pillen is running the Coffee Trike exactly as Bellino was, with a full range of espresso beverages, plus cold-brewed iced coffee, hot chocolate, and chocolate milk. He is in talks with tea companies to see if adding on those options is feasible, but pastries, juice, or other amenities aren’t in the cards for space reasons, Pillen says.

So far, the Coffee Trike is operating from about 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturdays. Beginning this Sunday, May 1, Pillen be at SoWa every first, third, and fifth Sunday.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that the Coffee Trike would be part of the South End Open Market, but it’s a vendor at the South Washington Open Market, which kicks off its season on May 1 at 460 Harrison Ave.