How the Volkswagen Bus still hauls in business

To be a successful entrepreneur, hard work is a given. When it comes to owning a small business, passion is also required – especially, if you’ve chosen to run your business from a Volkswagen Bus.

Across the country, VW brand enthusiasts and small business owners are taking original VW Microbuses and repurposing them a working Bus. Some started as Volkswagen enthusiasts and wanted to find a way to capitalize on their hobby of working on their buses. Others came to the idea through the inspiration that a Volkswagen Bus could take their vision to a new level.

For the enthusiasts, the Bus came first and the business second. Anthony Alcala owns a photo booth company based in Northern California called The Booth Bus. The couple always loved the outdoors, which is why they purchased a Bus to begin with. However, about 10 years ago, they decided that they wanted to live a more creative lifestyle. After exploring various entrepreneurial routes, they tapped into their professional skill set and converted their newly purchased bus into a photo booth in July 2014.

“The bus was centered around light-heartedness,” which was perfect for the change of pace they were looking for, Alcala said. To trial the concept, Anthony and his wife, Jenna, put the bus together for a neighborhood block party, “and people loved it. It was an ‘a-ha’ moment, and we ran with it.”

For some business owners, the Bus came second to their entrepreneurial vision. Ace Bar Bus owner Emily Biederman was inspired to transform a Bus into a mobile bartending service to pair with her restaurant, Ace Eat Serve in Denver, Colorado. After her team visited Bangkok, Thailand, and saw vendors using Volkswagen buses as extensions of their kitchens, they knew a VW Bus would be in their future.

And then, for some business owners, it is the combination of enthusiasm and entrepreneurial vision that inspires them. Erik Gordon started Carabiner Coffee a few years ago when he decided he was ready for a career change from his work as a climbing instructor.

“I was looking for other ways I could still cultivate a community with the people I loved to be around… Coffee just seemed like the natural thing,” explained Gordon. With fond memories of a 1987 Westfalia from his childhood and a desire to create a business that would allow him to explore, a mobile coffee bus in a Volkswagen van gave him the perfect balance.

The Secret Ingredient

Iconic. Nostalgic. Authentic. Good vibes. These are just a few of the words these business owners used to describe their chosen vehicles.

“The vans take people back to what seems like a simpler and usually good time,” said Gordon, whose business model is built on providing a simple, pure cup of coffee. “When I started this, I had no knowledge of what to do. But the van serves as an attention getter, and there is always a story attached.

“Whether it’s about previously owning a bus, or just a great memory of an experience, it really adds a lot to what I think makes a good business. It’s more than what you’re selling, we could always use inspiration.”

Across the board, keeping the integrity of the outside of the bus was crucial. “I didn’t want to impact the beauty of the bus, or hinder its natural look,” explains Anthony. “People jump into a bus because it’s nostalgic.”

However, the inside of the Bus is another story. Depending on the goals of the company, owners have gone to varying degrees of difficulty to modify the Bus to meet their business needs. Emily explained, “there are no blueprints for how to make a Bus into a bar.” But using a VW Bus was critical to truly replicating the world of Asian street food, so Emily was willing to put in the work. “It was a full gut job – the whole inside was redone. There are areas for serving food, ice. The top pops open so we can stand and serve outside.”

While the business may change, these owners represent a community of people who have taken their passions to new level.

“If I sell coffee to only five people in a day, but they are completely psyched and we talk for half an hour each, that’s a totally successful day for me because I got to have an impact on someone else’s day and they impacted mine,” said Gordon.