There is something wonderfully freeing about working in a food truck. The job seems to appeal to a certain free spirit, that individual who can’t quite fit into an office or even a kitchen in a restaurant. In a food truck, you are the king of your own domain. No bosses, no suit, just a view of whatever corner of the world you choose through a small window as waves of people come by to sample your wares. You listen to whatever music you choose, and approach the job whichever way you want.
The three New Haven 20-somethings who own and operate the Jitter Bus coffee truck in the Elm City — Dan Barletta, Paul Crosby and Andrew Mesiouris — are not huge fans of bosses. Having met as teenagers in West Haven, all three have been fired from Starbucks at one time or another. “You’re not cut out for this job,” Barletta says they told him when they let him go.
Well, joke’s on them. Now Barletta makes a living with his friends, working for themselves and each other, selling coffee on their own terms. Crosby, who has SINK and SWIM tattooed on the knuckles on his respective hands and was fired from a Starbucks in West Haven, says this has been the idea for him from the start. “It’s been my plan since I was in like fifth or sixth grade. It was a tattoo shop when I was young, but as I fell out of that, I grew into this,” he says.
Aesthetically, the Jitter Bus looks like what the Addams Family would come up with if they quit television and became do-it-yourself punks and tattoo artists. The old school bus is painted black with white designs hand-painted on. The Jitter Bus’ goth color scheme stands out amid the proliferation of brightly painted food trucks that populate our cities. Its one-year anniversary party was held back in March at Keys on Kites Tattoo & Gallery in New Haven’s Westville section, where they had a music show and raffled off a free tattoo.
The do-it-yourself attitude is not a hollow one. The guys in the Jitter Bus have built most of the mobile cafe’s components. Water tanks, counter tops, shelves, bus mechanics, even the swivel tray that holds the iPad cash register: all were built and designed by the three owner-operators.
On a blisteringly hot June day at their usual spot at the corner of Hillhouse Avenue and Grove Street, the boys on the bus are serving up hundreds of coffees ($2-$2.50), cappuccinos ($3.25-$3.75), cortados ($3.25), mochas ($4.25-$5), espressos ($2), chai ($3.50-$4) and the iced versions of all of them ($3-$5). Extra espresso shots can be added for 75 cents, and flavor shots of vanilla, hazelnut, caramel and coconut for 50 cents.
They get all their coffee from Connecticut, mostly from the Canton micro-operation Giv Coffee, and its excellent espresso blend Star Breather, sourced from Peru and Brazil with notes of dark chocolate, raisin and almond. Newington’s Saccuzzo Coffee Co. also provides beans, while pastries come from New Haven’s Whole G bakery and milk and cream from Connecticut-sourced Farmer’s Cow.
Despite the heat, there is a steady stream of people coming up for their usual fix. “We’re pretty much legal drug dealers,” says Crosby. “We sell it on the corner and everything,” Barletta adds after a laugh. The hundreds or even thousands of hole-punched loyalty cards oozing from every crack in the truck testify to the popularity of the truck and the regularity with which its patrons return. (While Hillhouse and Grove is their usual corner, the Jitter Bus is available for booking for events and festivals.)
A digital stroll through the Jitter Bus’ social media (follow The Jitter Bus on Facebook and on Instagram @jitterbuscoffee) reveals engine troubles, brutal weather, and the occasional celebrated appearance of Nari, a friend’s dog. The labor needed to make repairs on the bus, both Dan and Paul say, is the worst part about working for themselves. But still, they wouldn’t have it any other way.