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Startup brings European expresso cart to St. Pete streets

A remodeled, three-wheeled Indian taxi offering authentic Italian expresso with European quality and service will soon hit the streets of St. Petersburg.

Speaking at Thrive DTSP for Wednesday’s 1 Million Cups event, the last until August, a young entrepreneur introduced her startup, Café Tuk Tuk.

Maite Wallace, a first-generation Floridian, told a panel of local business leaders that she came up with the idea for her mobile expresso cart while living in Germany. While visiting a market in Budapest, she happened upon “the cutest little” motorized version of a pulled rickshaw, or tuk-tuk, as India and other countries call them.

“It’s very easy to find good expresso in Europe,” said Wallace. “Whether you’re at the office place, boutiques, shops, malls – wherever you are, you can find a good cup of Expresso.”

Once returning to America, Wallace, enlisting the help of her mom, began formulating a business plan to launch her own expresso cart. Plan in place, they found an old Indian taxi in a Sarasota warehouse and refurbished it to “restaurant quality.” Wallace said she could pull it around, but unlike the original tuk-tuk, it is undrivable.

An example of an Indian tuk-tuk, or motorized rickshaw. Photo: Unsplash.

Residents and visitors love St. Petersburg’s markets and the community aspect found in cafes, said Wallace, adding that Café Tuk Tuk would capitalize on both by utilizing its mobility.

In Europe, Wallace said customers typically drink their expresso at the counter with sparkling water. She wants to bring the same idea and service to the streets of St. Pete and believes it will fill an unmet need.

“There will be ceramic ware for onsite consumption and 100% biodegradable cups for to-go beverages,” said Wallace. “All good, expresso-based beverages.”

The Italian-based menu, said Wallace, will feature the original expresso, macchiato, latte, Americano and cold brew. Café Tuk Tuk will also sell bottled waters, including those infused with CBD.

“It’s not extensive like Starbucks,” she said. “Trying to keep it European style.”

According to the finance and fine arts student’s industry analysis, the coffee market is growing “substantially.” Wallace said most consumers are middle-aged, and the median age in St. Pete is 43.

Wallace added that companies are introducing more luxury items into the market, creating higher price points. She said residents could afford upscale beverages, with an average household income of around $70,000 in the city.

As part of her analysis and research, Wallace said she was recently able to attend an expresso course in Florence, Italy.

“So, I know exactly what it takes to make a good cup of expresso,” said Wallace. “The weight, the acidity, the bitterness – all that good stuff.”

After trying “all the expresso in Florida,” Wallace said she found the perfect roastery in Gainesville at Flagship Coffee Roasters. Not too bitter or acidic for Americans, she said the blend of beans was just bold enough to bring people back to Italy.

Wallace said her overhead remains low, around $22 per day, due to her coffee cart’s small size and mobility. With her cost per unit just under a dollar, she enjoys a profit margin of 80% and must only sell six cups daily to break even.

Café Tuk Tuk falls under the city’s licensing for pushcarts, said Wallace, eliminating the need for three sinks and other restaurant compliances. A small generator will provide electricity.

While the entrepreneur said she keeps an open mind regarding locations, she mentioned the cart could stay in fixed spaces and travel to private events. Due to the tuk-tuk’s small size, it requires a minimal amount of space to operate.

“Office spaces downtown – just throwing that out there,” said Wallace. “But ideally The Pier, or by Cycle Brewing.”

Rather than investment capital, Wallace asked the panel for help connecting to area markets and potential clients. She is looking for partners, especially with restaurant or hospitality experience, and also seeks assistance with future expansion.

“From tuk-tuk to multiple tuk-tuks in the St. Pete area,” said Wallace. “And I’m looking for that sweat and tears equity. Someone to help me elevate it.”

An exact launch date is unclear. For more information, visit the website here.




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