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Perfect cuppa joe may find you

Residential builder Doug Lystra was looking for his next job.

He found it in an unlikely place.

Darrell Guthrie sold insurance not far from a coffee shop his family operated near WinCo on Barnett Road. But his Northwest Insurance office was shuttered and when the nearby freeway ramp closed, the coffee shop's days were numbered.

A mutual friend put Lystra and Guthrie together and a few months later, Guthrie was operating out of an old ambulance Lystra remodeled into a mobile coffee shop.

Even during rugged economic times, niche coffee sales remain an attractive option for entrepreneurs.

Lystra and Guthrie have hit on a unique vehicle to deliver coffee to office and industrial employees, while Asher Yaron decided to tackle the home-roasting and home-delivery market. (See accompanying story.)

Coffee 911 got its start when Lystra put a duplex project on hold and began looking for a vehicle suitable to perform as a coffee shop on wheels.

He found an ambulance available for $10,000 in Sutherlin, gutted it and installed cabinets and countertops. He converted a side door into a service window and after two months, the vehicle was ready for a new career.

Unlike a typical delivery van, the 1995 ambulance was made for a remodel.

"There's a uniform building code for ambulances, so the wiring and construction is extremely well-built out of solid aluminum," Lystra says. "Just like an airplane, it has double circuits for everything, so there was a lot to work with for lights in the cabinets."

Lystra says he's still not sure what the final cost of the remodel will be.

"I haven't put all the bills together," he says. "But it ran a lot more than I thought it would. I learned I needed to upgrade the generator. I originally went with a diesel generator, because I thought it was the best and safest, rather than propane or gas."

He now plans to outfit the erstwhile ambulance with a propane generator "because it's quieter."

The 911 Coffee mobile gets about 12 miles per gallon, but it's a Class 3 ambulance weighing less than 10,000 pounds. Lystra envisions future endeavors to fall into a heavier Class 4 or 5 range.

"As soon as the duplex is done," he says. "I plan to do another one."

For his part, Guthrie sees plenty of possibilities beyond a weekday route, which still serves former Mmojo Mudd customers.

"It's perfect for fairs and high-end events," says Guthrie, who is aided by daughters Jasmin, an incoming freshman at Southern Oregon University, and Maile, a senior at Crater High School.

"The cool thing is that it's mobile and we can go anywhere," Guthrie says. "We have licenses for certain cities, but Medford is our main focus."

Coffee 911 operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and by appointment on weekends. The telephone number is 541-890-2439.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

Perfect cuppa joe may find you