KINGSLEY — How do you fit three espresso machines, a three-sink wash station, a drip coffee maker, two main blenders, a back-up blender, 48 syrup containers, a half dozen sauces, an ice maker, a combination refrigerator/freezer and a slew of other items into a 6-by-10 foot trailer?
First you need one Justin Orth.
Add in a lot of learning and a healthy dash of experimentation, put it in the parking lot and you have MoJo’s Coffee. Just walk or drive up to the window at 6951 Cougar Trail.
MoJo’s — which signifies the initials of owners Missy and Justin Orth — opened on Nov. 4 and has been cranking out coffees, lattes, espressos, teas, fruit smoothies and the like ever since from the carefully-crafted coffee confines.
Just don’t look for any wasted space inside the trailer Justin Orth built himself.
“There is not,” Justin Orth said, who fortunately is under 6 feet tall so he can stand upright without slouching. “I used every inch of this area.”
“Every inch,” Missy Orth added for emphasis.
Even the inspector before he opened marveled at the creation, jokingly asking why Justin Orth wanted to go in the coffee business.
“He was so impressed by my blueprints and finished product,” Orth recalled his Nov. 2 inspection. “He said, ‘Why are you going to sell coffee?’ I told him it was my dream to open a coffee shop. ‘In my 20 years of doing health inspections, I’ve never seen anything as detailed as this. You need to build and sell trailers.’”
But the Orths are happy to be doing exactly this. MoJo’s is open weekdays from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. outside H&R Block in Kingsley. Weekends finds the mobile coffee trailer at farmer’s markets as well as arts and crafts shows and other events. That’s often when Missy Orth, who works from the couple’s Fife Lake home in billing for Munson, joins the trailer.
The Orths said they decided to go into the coffee business because the closest shop to their home is Kalkaska or Cadillac. And it’s probably a McDonald’s.
Plus Justin Orth was ready for a change after working as a truck driver and a mechanic, most recently at Performance Plus Quick Lube. When it closed for a stretch at the start of the pandemic, Orth decided to change oil caps for half-caf.
“I’ve been a mechanic my whole life off and on,” he said. “The Quick Lube was shut down because of COVID. I thought, ‘I don’t want to go back to changing oil.’ I want to open a coffee shop.”
In the spring he ordered a basic espresso machine and some syrups and started experimenting.
“I bought a $50 machine first,” he said. “The more upgrades, the better the coffee got. I got good at it, too.”
“He’s learned the difference between good coffee and (store brand),” Missy Orth said.
Justin Orth later admitted he “learned a lot in just a few months.” Orth said he’s still learning, like the first time someone came up to the window and asked for a dirty chai, which he admitted to the customer he didn’t know how to make.
Now the Orths are turning out drinks like Mounds, Milky Way, frappés and peppermint mochas.
Justin Orth said the word is starting to get out about the coffee trailer in an industrial park just east of the village.
“Last week was our best week,” he said of the final days of 2021. “Every day it gets better. I’ve got to know a lot of faces now. Some customers pull up and I know exactly what they want without them asking.”
Justin Orth did all the electrical and plumbing work for the mobile coffee trailer, which comes complete with a heater for the cold months and air conditioning for the warmer ones. It can be powered by external electric or a gas generator.
Below the National Sanitation Foundation-approved shelves are a tank for freshwater and another for graywater. The bed of Justin Orth’s truck has three 55-gallon drums, two for freshwater and one for graywater for refilling or disposal.
The trailer doesn’t have capabilities to sell bakery or pastry items yet, but Justin Orth said it will be featured on future ones.
Once the Orths got the trailer built out, developing its offerings was a challenge.
“That was probably the longest, hardest part of this whole thing was my menu,” Justin Orth said. “I wanted to make sure everything was right and everything was priced right.”
Weekday placement was solved thanks to a relationship with H&R Block and franchise owner Tony Temple. Missy Orth used to live near the Temples when she was a single mom and her son, J.J. Steinebach, works at the branch.
While getting a ride back to their vehicle at the Buckley Old Engine Show with Temple this summer, the Orths broached the subject with Temple.
“I asked Tony if we could park our trailer in front of his business,” Justin Orth recalled. “He didn’t stop a beat. He didn’t even hesitate. He said, ‘Yes, I’d like that.’”
“He was looking for a place to go and I said, ‘Why not here?’ and he’s been here ever since,” said Temple, who said someone in his family will stop at MoJo’s at least once a day, in addition to his employees being regular patrons. “It’s a great location right on the main drag.”
Temple’s agreement finalized Justin Orth’s “never in a million years” dream into a reality.
“He said, ‘Why are you going to sell coffee?’ I told him it was my dream to open a coffee shop.” Justin Orth, Mojo’s Coffee