Café Mulé’s primary business has moved from the trail to the city.
Still, owner Matt Bishop and face-of-the-franchise Richard the Mule will return to the Boise Foothills on Saturday to begin another season handing out complimentary cups of coffee to trail users.
They’ll be stationed on Sidewinder trail from 8:30 to 11 a.m. They’ll hit the trails again June 3 (location TBA at cafemule.com) before taking a break. Sidewinder is accessed from the Crestline trail, which is between Hulls Gulch Reserve and Military Reserve and reachable from both sides.
Many of the people Bishop serves seek out the weekly Café Mulé location. He accepts tips and donations, which he was allowed to do once he set up on private land.
“The trail service, from the beginning, took on a life of its own, and it’s really something addictive,” Bishop said. “It’s great to be up there and interface with the community. Yeah, it’s something I want to continue to do. There is a focus on the business. It’s where I spend all my time. I have to get that to a point of profitability. There’s obviously a marketing component to what I do on the trails, but I have a desire for it to never feel commercial up there. I want it to maintain its community character.”
Bishop garnered regional attention last year when the Idaho Statesman chronicled his first day of trailside coffee service on May 28, 2016. He and Richard pack all of the necessary gear into the Foothills. They ran into regulatory issues with the concept at first but were offered several places where they can set up on private land within the Ridge to Rivers trail system. Café Mulé now works exclusively in those privately owned spots, including at least one owned by the family of Lt. Gov. Brad Little.
Since his debut, Bishop has built a business around cold-brew coffee. His product is on tap at Guru Donuts and soon will be on tap at the Boise Co-op as well. The bottled version is available at the Co-op, Whole Foods and other stores.
For his trailside service, Bishop is able to pack six gallons of cold brew. That serves about 100 customers, which takes about 2 1/2 hours. When temperatures are cool and customers prefer their coffee hot, he uses a kettle and stove to heat it up. But he no longer serves the pour-over coffee that he made initially. He couldn’t produce pour-over coffee fast enough to keep up.
“Once the middle of the summer hit, we started getting requests for cold brew,” Bishop said. “It was something I wanted to learn how to make and delve into. It has become really the main focus of my business.”
Bishop makes his cold brew using chilled water once a week in a commercial kitchen in Garden City. The 24-hour process creates a rich taste with less acidity and a higher caffeine content than traditional coffee, he said. He serves the coffee on nitrogen, which makes a cup of coffee look like a beer out of the tap.
“It looks really cool,” Bishop said, “and even though it’s just coffee and water, the nitrogen gives it a creamy taste. It’s a fun product to serve.”
Switching to cold brew allowed him to carve out a niche in the coffee market.
“About a third of the people we got on the trail last year were familiar with (cold brew),” Bishop said. “It’s still a product many people are being educated about.”
A year after he started, Bishop says his business is covering its own expenses. The next step?
“I’m still figuring out how to grow it to where it’s profitable,” he said.
As for Richard, the mule is doing well and Bishop has spent some time riding him.
“I did that primarily just to have fun working with him,” Bishop said. “He’s been a good boy for me.”