New coffee truck brews up a special blend for your cup of joe

Seth Kelter has coffee down to a science.

Every morning, he measures the humidity and adjusts the pressure for his espresso machine accordingly. He can tell you exactly what that light brown layer on top of your espresso shot is, and what happened chemically inside the machine to make it so. And his laboratory, Candide Roasteries, can usually be found parked on South Mathews Avenue in Urbana.

Candide is the newest food truck on campus, serving up specialty coffee from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Kelter, a recent University grad and self-proclaimed coffee head, opened the truck’s windows for business two weeks ago. His ultimate goal: To bring quality coffee to campus.

“Right now, the coffee culture on campus is sort of whatever you can get,” Kelter said. “What I really want is for people to become a little more selective about what kind of (coffee) they buy.”

The idea for Candide Roasteries, named after Voltaire’s famous work, actually stemmed from a joke. Kelter’s friends would tease him, saying as an English major, he would end up working in a coffee shop. But, Kelter did them one better and opened his own.

After graduating in 2010, Kelter spent more than two months researching and putting together a 45-page business plan for the Small Business Association of America, using many of the skills he learned through his English courses. After the association granted him $120,000, Kelter’s idea came to fruition.

What makes Candide different from other coffee shops on campus, Kelter said, is the attention to detail that comes with every cup. Kelter is highly selective in the products he uses in his coffee and has his eye on every part of the process.

Kelter is perhaps the most particular about the beans he uses, preferring a light roast to the typical dark roast, because it highlights the quality of the bean. Since he doesn’t have the means to roast enough beans to sustain business at the moment, he orders a custom Venezuela-Brazil espresso blend from Hubbard and Cravens Coffee Co., in Indianapolis. Kelter also sometimes uses a custom Guatemalan Huixoc blend from Columbia Street Roastery in Champaign.

Samuel Logan, senior in Nursing, said the truck caught his eye during his walk to the Library of Health Sciences. Logan had never seen it there before, but was needing an afternoon pick-up. He ordered a shot of espresso and really enjoyed the flavor.

Logan said the quality of the product and convenient location will keep him coming back.

“It’s open in the afternoon, too, which is when I need it most,” he said.

Kelter has also designed his business around environmentally-friendly concepts. In addition to using completely biodegradable cups, lids and sleeves, the truck itself was custom designed in California; it is fully-equipped with green technology and the machines are about 40 percent powered by solar panels.

Price-wise, Kelter said he is competitive with other specialty coffee shops on campus, a small cup of coffee costing around $2 and larger specialty drinks capping out at $5. So far, business at Candide has been slow, Kelter said. However, his second week saw a steady increase, and he is hopeful it will continue to grow.

Eric Seeds, owner of the popular campus food truck Derald’s Catering, said he’s happy to have the company on Mathews. He hopes the additional food truck will create more of a draw, similar to how a food court works — people will go where the food is and decide what they want when they get there.

He added that Candide has already been a compliment to his business, not competition.

“It’s already happening where people order a sandwich from (Derald’s), walk over to get a cappuccino and then come back to pick up the sandwich,” he said.

Seeds said, as a food truck owner, Kelter has some harder times to come during winter break.

“When all the students are gone and it’s 32-below with the wind-chill, it gets pretty tough,” Seeds said.

Already, Kelter has learned some hard lessons as a small business owner, especially the true cost of running a small business — from actual cash to the time commitment. Kelter said he spends on average 16 to 17 hours every day working on things related to Candide.

“We’ve been on campus for two weeks, and I feel like we’ve been open for five months ­— I’ve learned so much,” he said.

Five years from now, Kelter hopes to roast his own beans and, in addition to his food truck, have battery-powered push carts on campus that can pump out about 900 espressos in a day — a concept that isn’t popular in the Midwest yet, but is expanding on the West Coast.

While Kelter’s goal is to bring quality coffee to campus, he also wants Candide to be his way of giving back to Champaign-Urbana.

Since his father is a chemistry professor, he has lived in many places throughout the country and is happy to have settled in Champaign-Urbana.

As a micro-urban community, Kelter said, it has a lot of the things you would find in a larger city, just on a smaller scale.

He added that it has been a joy working with other local businesses.

“This, by far, has been one of the greatest infrastructure places I’ve (lived),” he said. “Of all the things I’ve been able to do, interacting with the local people has been fantastic.”