The name Jitter Bus came to them first. Three longtime friends, all experienced baristas, decided they wanted to bring their coffee knowledge to a new business — a mobile café.
"We thought it would be a fresh spin on something that's pretty abundant in New Haven," says co-owner Dan Barletta. He and partners Andrew Mesiouris and Paul Crosby looked at a 1970s-era food truck with a stick shift, but then found their ideal vehicle: fittingly, a small school bus.
"When we found the bus, I knew instantly it was going to work for us," Barletta says.
The project was funded in part by a successful Kickstarter campaign, which raised just over $5,200 for startup costs. The partners spent nearly a year gutting and renovating the bus, pulling out its seats and installing a large espresso machine, coffee grinders and refrigeration equipment. In early February, they introduced the Jitter Bus to New Haven, serving a full menu of caffeinated beverages.
A recent Monday morning visit found Barletta and Mesiouris staffing the mobile café at the corner of Hillhouse Avenue and Grove Street, pulling espresso shots and pouring steamed milk into intricate latte-art patterns as fresh coffee aromas mingled with the scent of an almond biscotti candle. Mesiouris chatted with each customer in the steady line, asking about their weekends.
Jitter Bus's coffee beans come from three Connecticut-based roasters: Giv in Canton, Saccuzzo in Newington and A Happy Life based in Wallingford. Barletta says the partners chose their sources carefully, paying close attention to the companies' missions and making sure the supplying coffee farmers are receiving fair wages.
The extensive menu features drip coffee, with daily light and dark roast offerings; lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, cortados, café au lait and other hot and cold espresso-based drinks, along with tea, hot cocoa and apple cider. Drinks are priced at $1.50 for a single shot of espresso to $4 for a larger-sized mocha. The bus has earned raves for one of its signature drinks, an "almond joy" latte with almond milk, coconut syrup and high-quality cocoa powder.
The three partners have lengthy coffee-related resumes, having worked for several independent cafes in the city — and also, Starbucks. At age 18, Barletta started his first coffee job at the international chain, but was fired a month later. "They let me go and told me that I wasn't really cut out for it. I always thought that was kind of funny," he says, laughing.
The experience motivated him to learn the business over the next several years. Today, he pulls double duty, working part-time at the Belgian-inspired Maison Mathis cafe. Crosby works shifts at G Café, which supplies Jitter Bus with pastries like scones and croissants ($2 to $3). Mesiouris is on the truck full-time.
The bus has built a Yale-heavy, weekday customer base at its regular corner, brewing java from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"Originally we thought we'd drive around the city but it's definitely better to stick in one spot," Barletta says. "People know where to find you. There's a lot of people that work in these buildings that always come out to us, which is really awesome."
The partners are happy with the reception the bus has received in its first few months, crediting their roots within the New Haven coffee scene and the relationships they've built over time.
"We've lived in the area for 10 years now, it's a relatively small city, we know just about everyone," Mesiouris says. "It's community-driven business. Everyone wants to come and support us."