Trailer Perk Coffee, a coffee trailer that pulls design inspiration from the mid-century, is setting up its brick-and-mortar store on the same location as one of Spingfield’s mid-century icons, the original spot of Red’s Giant Hamburg.
“I’m excited to make it beautiful again, because it has been sitting vacant and neglected for so long that I’m excited to put something worthwhile on it,” said Amber Ottoson, owner and operator of Trailer Perk Coffee.
Red’s Giant Hamburg opened along Chestnut Expressway, then Route 66, in 1947 and closed in 1984. The original building was torn down in 1997. New owners rebuilt the icon on Sunshine Street in 2019, while the original location has long remained vacant.
“I’m looking forward to kind of beautifying that little corner, and hopefully other businesses that choose to build on the West Side kind of follow suit. It starts with one,” Ottoson said.
Ottoson anticipates that Trailer Perk Coffee’s brick-and-mortar location should open sometime this summer. For the first year that location is open, Ottoson will put the trailer on hiatus, but hopes to eventually run both at the same time.
Until the trailer is back up and running, people should watch for the 10-foot-tall pink flamingo named “Rosie,” which will mark Trailer Perk Coffee’s drive-thru at 2848 W. Chestnut Expressway.
Coffee a constant in owner’s life
Since she was 17, Ottoson explained, she’d worked on and off in coffee shops. She’d lived in Washington state, where there are “coffee shops on every corner.” When her husband asked what she wanted to do in Springfield, after time in corporate America and a stint as a stay-at-home mom to their two kids, the answer was simple.
“I said, ‘I want to do coffee again. I want to do it myself,'” Ottoson said.
The couple found a concession trailer, bought it, “and I really had no business plan outside of, ‘We’re going to build it and we’re going to see what Springfield wants me to do with it.'”
As for the name?
One of Ottoson’s high school friends had just opened a coffee shop in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boise, Idaho. The friend called her shop “Hyde Perk.” While brainstorming names on a road trip, Ottoson’s husband told her, “I couldn’t buy you a Hyde Perk, but I could take you to the Trailer Perk.”
And it stuck.
Looking for more mobile eats? Greene County’s 88 food trucks have everything from acai bowls to West African food
A place in Springfield for a cup of ‘white coffee’
From there, everything fell into place. The concession trailer got a Shasta camper-inspired look and drink ideas flowed like, well, coffee: “The Happy Camper” is a toasted marshmallow mocha, “The Airstream” is a butter pecan latte and “The Flamingo” is a white chocolate raspberry mocha.
In addition to its trailer-themed drinks, Trailer Perk Coffee brought a uniquely Pacific Northwest flavor to Springfield: White coffee.
Coffee roasts depend on how long coffee beans are cooked. For example, there are light roasts, medium roasts and dark roasts. Dark roast beans have been cooked for a long time, whereas white coffee beans have been “roasted slightly under fire.”
“What comes out of (that process) is a very, very, very blonde, very caffeinated shot of coffee with a very mild taste. So, I call it my non-coffee drinker’s coffee — they’re enjoying a cup of coffee without that full-bodied, acidic taste that people either love or hate about traditional espresso,” Ottoson said.
White coffee became Trailer Perk’s niche. Eventually, people who had moved from Idaho and Oregon would seek Ottoson’s trailer out, telling her they hadn’t gotten the chance to drink white coffee in five or 10 years.
“It was a really fun thing to have something that people would intentionally search us out for,” Ottoson said.
More creativity, more freedom
Ottoson is excited to have more room and more power in the permanent spot on Chestnut Expressway, which allows her “have fun with more things,” like offering new drinks that need special equipment.
“I’m excited to have granita machines again, which is essentially a delicious latte coming out of a margarita machine, so think coffee slush,” Ottoson said.
While the mobile trailer was a one-woman operation, Ottoson plans to hire staff for the drive-thru.
“Something I really miss from working in coffee and other businesses before is that training aspect and working with other people and establishing this dance that happens behind a coffee bar, especially in a high-paced drive-thru environment. It’s so much fun,” Ottoson said. “I attribute so much of my work ethic, how I work and how much I can do, to being in that coffee house environment.”
The drive-thru will have two lanes. Ottoson hopes to make one an express lane, where people can order and pay ahead of time, and can just grab their drink or a morning treat from a local bakery, and be on their way.
Trailer Perk Coffee’s drive-thru location will also offer baked goods, made by a West Side bakery.
Need a cup of coffee now? Willard’s laundromat café celebrates 2 years with new in-house donut shop
‘We’re very grateful for this town’
Ottoson is devoted to supporting local businesses, from advertising to baked goods and coffee beans to construction.
“We were born and established in Springfield. We want to be a Springfield favorite. We are now on a very historical spot in Springfield,” Ottoson said. “We’re going to support everything that is the Springfield area. It’s the least I can do. We’re very grateful for this town.”
Ottoson recently got an idea of just how much history is associated with the site on Chestnut Expressway.
Last week, Ottoson was on the lot when a man walked by and paused to talk to her.
“You’ve got big shoes to fill. I remember coming here when I was a kid,” he told her. “You know, Red’s wife loved lilies. Can you plant some lilies for her?”
She told him that she could.
Susan Szuch is the health and public policy reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow her on Twitter @szuchsm. Story idea? Email her at [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Coffee trailer building drive-thru on original Red’s spot