Last November, when Cloud Coffee first opened on Main Campus outside of Tyler School of Art, founders Matthew Craig and Kristen Mills were determined to not only serve quality coffee, but also combine a business with an art project.
The owners of Cloud Coffee both received their master’s degrees in painting from Tyler last year. Unlike the careers most art students pursue after graduation, like trying to work for a gallery or teaching, Craig and Mills found a different path.
“We’re very familiar with [Main Campus] and what [it] was missing, and that was good coffee,” Mills said.
Craig added that Cloud Coffee should be a special part of a customer’s day and not just a routine.
“Starbucks is there, Saxbys is there. Those places are fine, but they’re not really special. They’re just sort of places to go,” Craig said. “I think it makes a big difference when you’re at school, and you’re hyper stressed, and you can look forward to [your next cup of coffee].”
Therefore, Main Campus was and still is the most desirable main location for their cart. In contrast to the mass-produced coffee that chain shops provide, Cloud Coffee strives on having quality beverages and fresh food items, including locally roasted coffee and locally baked goods.
The idea for the Cloud Project began when Craig and Mills began casually discussing it toward the end of their last semester at Temple. They wanted to still be able to express themselves, as well as expose a wider range of people to art. Cloud Coffee was the solution they came up with, allowing the exchange between the artists and their customers to happen while still being able to receive income.
“It was kind of a joke for a while, but then we started talking about it really seriously,” Craig said. “Philadelphia seems like a place where people can [achieve] things. It seemed extra obtainable here.”
“As artists, we ultimately want to work for ourselves,” Mills said. “We thought it just might be the right place at the right time to do something like this.”
Cloud Coffee is the first business venture for Craig and Mills, and it’s been a welcomed challenge.
“It’s scary because we’ve never [ran a business] before, but at the same time what else is there better to do?” Mills said. “Why not just be risky and go for it? [Cloud Coffee] is a different kind of dream, but may be just as relevant.”
“There’s satisfaction because we have some control over it, too. We can involve other people or evolve into different things,” Craig said.
Along with selling locally roasted coffee, and other local-made goods, it is also the duo’s goal to try and expose art to more people through the business itself. They plan to do that primarily through gallery visits and collaborations with other artists and entertainers.
“How I see art is that it’s a symbolic exchange. [The Cloud Project] is a relational work,” Mills said. “We’re engaging ourselves in something that’s meaningful.”
Being a mobile cart, Cloud Coffee can move around and do things such as collaborate with art galleries or other businesses, which is something that the owners consider as a great advantage over a stationary location. Its first time being open was in front of galleries during First Friday last November. But, the owners plan to create their own events in the future, in addition to visiting galleries.
“Something we’re thinking about doing is an artist’s prize, where we call for work like images, video, sound or whatever, charge a nominal fee for a juror, and pick an artist out of that, which will benefit the artist’s practice or their studio,” Mills said.
Craig said he wants Cloud Coffee to act as a resource for Philadelphia artists.
“We’re trying to connect with other makers and producers,” Mills said. “We’re always a part of something.”
On the business end of things, the future looks hopeful for Craig and Mills. In the beginning, they scraped together what funding they could mostly through friends and family members. However, they recently reached more than their $2,750 donation goal on their Kickstarter page — they received $2,977, as of press time — which will allow them to receive funding to help continue their business, and passed a recent inspection “with flying colors.”
“[The support] is amazing,” Craig said. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster but I think we’re getting to the point where we’re going to survive, and it’s going to be awesome.”
Craig and Mills’ dedication to quality beverages and creating a conversation about art has allowed Cloud Coffee to fill a new niche among Main Campus’ food trucks and cafés. The next step for Cloud Coffee is to be consistent and gain more patrons for the business now that the new semester is underway. The business will maintain its primary location in front of Tyler, but also plans to travel from time to time.
“We both recognize that it’s definitely worthwhile, so we are not going to give up,” Mills said.
Samantha Stough can be reached at email@example.com.