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Man who made a business selling coffee from the back of his van 'overwhelmed' with donations as engine seizes

By Elizabeth Thomas

A coffee van driver has said that he is "overwhelmed with joy" after people donated money when the engine of his van seized, putting his business off the road. Rich Morgan, 31, owns Smiler's Coffee Co. and said that he was having to rely on lifts from his mum to make it to the spots where he usually trades.

Rich, who is self-employed, bought his Citroen Nemo van second hand three years ago when he started his business. But, close to celebrating the third anniversary of starting Smiler's Coffee, Rich says that the engine of his trustee van has “somehow managed to seize completely”, after surviving through starting his own business as well as the pandemic.

The engine’s van has seized just one month having an MOT and an oil change, leaving Rich without a mode of transport to go to his usual selling spots and markets. Usually, Rich can be found at Hay-on-Wye on Thursdays between 8.30am and 2.30pm and on Sundays at Chepstow High Street Market. But, with the van’s engine having seized up, he is now left in a difficult position.

READ MORE: Range Rover owner leaves vehicle covered in angry signs outside dealership

“At the moment, it means I’m completely without transportation so I can’t actually go to markets and sell my coffee from the van,” Rich said. The van had been fully converted for Rich to travel around and sell coffee and had a coffee machine fitted in the back. Rich says he’s hoping to be back on the road in a week or two.

“Right now I’m literally asking my mum to give me a lift wherever she can at the moment,” he added. Back in 2019 Rich acquired a business loan from Start Up UK, supported by Business and Focus, in order to set up the business and convert the van, but says he hasn’t “got any real savings to sort out a plan B”.

Rich came up with the concept for Smiler’s Coffee in March 2019 and was able to get the business on the road in North Wales later that year. He roasts all his coffee from home every week before stocking up the van to go to markets. Now, w ith the encouragement of friends and customers, Rich has set up a fundraiser in order to secure £2,000 for a new van.

He says that, in just four days, he reached 90 per cent of his target, offering free coffee vouchers in exchange for donations. Rich says the situation with his van has been a “fiasco” but that support from a fundraiser he set up following the loss of his vehicle has “really lit a fire under [him] not to give up.”

Rich started his business up in 2019 (Rich Morgan)

“I know for a fact that I could go out and get a loan, but it would mean having to pay off more money in the future while paying off the business loan I’ve already got for the next two years,” Rich said. “I talked to a few market people and had the idea of setting [the fundraiser] up and they told me, ‘Go for it, what’s the worst that could happen? People don’t donate?’”

Originally from Ebbw Vale and now settled in Treforest, Rich says he has a “long history” of wanting to work in the hospitality industry. “All my education, I’ve driven it towards having a food-related business,” he said. Rich did a GCSE in catering before studying for a BTEC in hospitality supervision. He went on to get a degree in hospitality management and later decided to plan for his own business. “It is just as hard as any other business,” Rich said of the work he has had to put in to set up the coffee van.

“Pre-pandemic I was just starting up so I was getting used to what would normally be considered a regular business day, a regular business week, trying to find the right markets,” Rich said. “But then lockdowns really did hit the business because a lot of the markets I did, other than this Hay-on-Wye market, were pretty much closed.

"They just stopped operating because they just didn’t know what to do. Luckily, the market in Hay-on Wye is a chartered market which means it dates back to the Magna Carta and will always be open to the public down to the King’s law, or the Common Law.”

Among the donations Rich has received, he said he wanted to say a “big thank you” to Urban Markets and Events, who he said donated £200 to his fundraiser.

“I haven’t been with their market group for that long and they’re giving me more support that I’ve actually been attending so far, so I’m really overwhelmed and taken aback by the support of them all,” he said. Rich says that he is “overwhelmed with joy” at the response he has had to the fundraiser and that he was “lost for words” on how to express his gratitude “other than just giving everyone free coffees.”

“It’s really helped my situation relieve itself from that pressure of trying to find the money and it’s lit a fire underneath me to just work harder, because I can’t let these people down now,” he said.

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