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Duluth RV brews java drinks on the go

The Portage Coffee Camper family business was made possible with a little faith and a lot of caffeine.

Man making coffee.
Portage Coffee Camper co-owner Bo Brallier, right, makes a cappuccino in the mobile coffee shop Thursday as employee Rob Banks works in the background.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — A new mobile coffee shop in a truck-bed trailer made its debut last week.

Portage Coffee Camper is open from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and serves a full line of espresso and specialty drinks, cold brew, drip coffee, lemonade, iced tea, sparkling water and prepackaged snacks. Every morning, Portage Coffee Camper will share its new location on the Portage.Coffee Instagram page.

Portage Coffee owners Emilie and Bo Brallier
Portage Coffee owners Emilie and Bo Brallier began their business to spend more time together as a family.
Contributed / Bo Brallier

Owners Bo and Emilie Brallier, both 27, began their venture to start a mobile coffee business two years ago to spend more time together with their children, Magnolia, 2, and Theo, 1, in tow. Bo also works as an independent web designer. Emilie previously studied human services in the Twin Cities before working at Dovetail Cafe and Marketplace in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

"My favorite job is being a barista, but it doesn't make a lot of money. Plus with two kids our schedules are crazy," Emilie said.

When her husband pitched the idea of opening their own cafe, Emilie was apprehensive with all the work that entailed. Then he presented a scaled-down version of the business plan: a coffee truck, and Emilie was on board.

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"I love the power of coffee. Serving drinks has the ability to bring people together. We also have a lot of quality coffee with local roasters in the area," she said.

Construction on the 22,300-square-foot, $7 million-$8 million Duluth fitness center is expected to begin this fall.

The couple also shares a passion for nature. They first met at a wilderness school in Montana, and both served as guides in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This inspired the theme of Portage Coffee Camper, Emilie said.

"It is the concept of portaging coffee from one vessel to the next. Take your travel with you," friend and employee Rob Banks said.

The Portage Coffee Camper truck.
Rob Banks, left, and Bo Brallier joke during a break between customers Thursday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Potential locations include Canal Park, Lester Park, Lemon Road by the Duluth Rose Garden, hospitals and Park Point. In the future, Portage Coffee Camper is interested in forming partnerships with local festivals, events, businesses and farmers markets.

Overcoming roadblocks with community support

The Bralliers faced several challenges in their efforts to get their business up-and-running.

The couple purchased an affordable camper, but upon inspection found it didn't meet the Minnesota Health Department's standards required to serve beverages, Emilie said. The estimated costs to gut and remodel the original camper's interior was outside their budget.

A vintage coffee grinder.
A vintage coffee grinder sits on the counter of the Portage Coffee Camper.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Instead, they sold the old camper and Bo decided to build one himself. His father is a pilot and allowed use of his hanger as a workshop to build the new trailer. Construction began in January 2021.

After their tools were stolen from the camper, Lakeview Covenant Church replaced the items so construction could continue. Then, when the couple's truck broke down, their church allowed Portage Coffee Camper to park in its lot at the intersection of Shively Road and Glenwood Street for the grand opening on June 20.

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"It's pretty amazing how generous and supportive these folks are," Banks said.

Bo added: "We like the small business community focus here in Duluth. Having a business that is handmade with the ability to do it with friends is enough to support us."

"A few gray hairs and two years later, here we are," Emilie said.

Related Topics: DULUTHSMALL BUSINESS
Brielle Bredsten is the business reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.

She earned a bachelor's degree in Professional Writing & Technical Communication, with minors in Advertising and Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University, in addition to a two-year professional paid internship as reporter/editor of the student newspaper.

She is an award-winning professional writer, photographer and editor based in rural Minnesota. Over the past decade, Brielle Bredsten has contributed more than 1,000 articles, feature stories, non-profit press-releases, photographs and columns. Her work has been published in several community newspapers.

Send her story tips, feedback or just say hi at bbredsten@duluthnews.com.
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