Author’s Blurb: I’m someone who mostly drinks coffee simply because I love the taste of it. I’m not a coffee snob and I can’t taste the difference between different roasts of beans, but I can appreciate the occasional fresh brewed coffee, especially if it’s for cheap.
Fauzi shares that same belief. Better known as Pakcik #kopikupi, he sells freshly brewed coffee out of his car boot.
Before this, he’d been a plantation manager since 1992 and spent the last 5 years at his job as a General Manager Plantation in Sorong, Papua Barat, Indonesia.
“During weekends, I like to patronise roadside coffee stalls and simple cafes just to taste the variety of Indonesian coffee,” he recalled.
He then began toying with the idea of opening up a cafe of his own, where he could serve high-quality coffee at affordable prices.
Working in Indonesia, the time he could spend with his family was limited, and it made him rethink his choices.
He asked himself, “What do I yearn for the most, money or life quality? I am not looking to compete with others on material gained, what I want is decent earning to fulfill basic necessities.”
So, he decided to give himself a break and try something new.
“A coffee business seemed to be a good choice. In my mind, if this venture fails, I can always go back and work in the plantation industry.”
This resolve gave him enough confidence to leave his 5-figure salary job for simpler days as a car boot mobile cafe operator.
Grinding It Out
Starting the cafe from his car boot wasn’t easy from the get-go. Being a coffee enthusiast wasn’t enough to start a business. He first had to learn how to make it.
“When I came back to Malaysia, I bought myself a cheap espresso machine as a learning curve then upgraded to a mid-range espresso machine before deciding to fully venture into this business with the commercial espresso machine that I am operating now,” Fauzi shared.
It cost him over RM20,000 to get #kopikupi up and running by January 2020.
“The biggest cost is the espresso machine, then the generator to provide electricity, then the coffee grinder and all the internal modifications for my car,” he pointed out.
He’d taken many pointers from chit-chatting with Indonesian coffee brewers he’d met over his coffee adventures to learn the craft.
To polish his skills, he attended one basic barista training course.
Rather than wait around as his car was being modified into a mobile cafe, Fauzi started offering his high-quality coffee to neighbours and friends. Their support and positive reviews comforted him as he prepared to set up.
“When the car was ready to operate as a mobile cafe, I tried to find a good location,” he said.
“But due to administrative issues still pending such as approval from relevant authorities, I decided to just start within my neighbourhood.”
Slow Brew To Recognition
The business was slow at first due to a lack of publicity. For a full day of work, he could only sell 10-20 cups a day, and 30 cups on the weekends.
But he was patient, saying, “I stayed positive that people need time to appreciate good coffee.”
Although his freshly roasted beans had regular loyal customers, new ones were few and far between. At the time, his earnings were just enough to support his utility bills.
His coffee is priced between RM3 for espresso to RM10 for bottled, flavoured milk coffee.
He started promoting #kopikupi products more heavily at the start of the year, posting up content of his freshly roasted beans and basic coffee brewing equipment which gained the attention of coffee enthusiasts.
Just when business was starting to pick up though, #kopikupi had to hit the brakes, which was a massive struggle for Fauzi as the mobile cafe is his full time job.
“The COVID-19 pandemic hit us and I needed to stop selling coffee outside my home. The business was very badly hit and I was using my savings to get through month to month.”
“I do have a few mid and long term business investments here and there with friends, but still have not yielded any income,” he added.
But all that would soon change.
Late Night Latte
Sometimes, Fauzi would open up his shop at night upon requests from neighbours and friends who lived close by. That dedication to his customers got him the attention he deserved.
“One fine night while entertaining requests, this one neighbor snapped a few photos of me while I was preparing his latte and posted it to his WhatsApp group.”
That group happened to include a reporter from The Star, who covered Fauzi’s story. That completely turned his business around.
Fauzi is now able to sell 20-30 cups for a full day of work on weekdays, and 75-125 cups over the weekend, quite a jump from his pre-MCO numbers.
Now he’s focused on strengthening the #kopikupi brand as “your neighbourhood village cafe selling good quality coffee with affordable village price”.
Eventually, he hopes to franchise the concept of car boot cafes and has plans to have at least 3 #kopikupi outlets, with 2 being mobile cafes and a brick-and-mortar store at his hometown in Sungai Limau.
He currently operates his business with his 19-year-old daughter, Nadhirah, who had joined him in the same barista training course he attended when he was training too.
Bottom Line: Call me a cheapskate, but I’m a believer that high-quality things can be affordable too. If I ever find myself down in Johor, I’d like to meet Fauzi myself and even try some of his coffees.
Editor’s Update: Parts of this article have been edited to reflect greater accuracy.
Featured Image Credit: Fauzi’s Facebook