“The van cost $28,000 however the fit out process takes her to the value of around $100,000. Her value to me as a kool Volkswagen Kombi is much much more than these values though!!!”

In the fast paced, high pressure world we often find ourselves in today it’s sometimes good – no I’ll rephrase that, it’s sometimes essential to step back, take a hard long look at what you’ve got yourself into and reassess what it’s all about. Are you comfortable with your life and your place in it? Are you happy? Are you well? And perhaps most importantly are you spending enough of your time doing what soothes your soul and makes your heart sing – whether that’s playing footie in the back yard with the kids, tending your perennials (!), and spending cherished time with your loved ones or getting covered in oil and grease fixing rusty old Volkswagen Buses. And sometimes it is the oddest of occurrences that prompt all of that reflection and self-analysis and set you on a path that will lead you to nowhere you ever imagined being before.

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This is one such story. Of a girl called Elisa, originally from Bundaberg in Queensland who followed a career that gave her the opportunity to travel throughout Queensland and the Northern Territory, but that also came with a high degree of associated stress. Gradually Elisa found herself questioning whether this was really good for her and whether it was what she really wanted to be doing with her life. The honest answer was “NO!” and having decided that she needed to make a change, and a significant one at that, Elisa Cao began thinking about what an alternative working life might look like for her. It is her sister that she blames for the VW part of course; or rather I should say thanks for her inspiration, as the word ‘blame’ implies something negative. And Florence, the 1964 VW Panel Van that helped Elisa slow down, smile more and achieve that change, is unequivocally NOT a negative (that’s another way of saying she’s a very BIG positive, in case you were in any doubt).

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Elisa says, “My sister had a 1977 Camper. Her way of life was obviously enjoyable and so I was keen to see how a Kombi could compliment my life.” Elisa had never owned a VW of any sort before, and was certainly no experienced classic car owner but the well-known charm of the friendly faced VW Camper appealed and the idea of turning one into a mobile coffee van appealed even more.

Elisa found Florence advertised on the internet back in March 2014, although she wasn’t called Florence back then. The van was located in Melbourne so Elisa, with her husband and son, flew down to get a closer look and to talk to the owner about what she had in mind. She was sure the Dove Blue Split Screen Delivery Van, which had been specified with double opening doors on both sides, would be absolutely perfect for the job and would prove a big hit as an unusual, attractive and inviting coffee ‘shop’ that would encourage passersby to stop. When they saw the van in the flesh she was in as good condition as the photos had suggested. Both internally and externally she looked fantastic; the double opening doors both sides were immensely practical and back in 2004 (after twenty years of being in storage) she’d been restored, resprayed in the original Dove Blue paint colour and had a reconditioned 1493cc Brazilian engine fitted that was still running well.

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Excited at the prospect, and unfazed at the thought of driving a left hand drive vehicle in right hand drive Australia, Elisa successfully convinced the then owner that she would look after and respect his very special VW, and that they’d have lots of fun together bringing great coffee to the worthy people of Brisbane. Elisa says, “After the nervous ‘interview’ with her owner, Neville, and explaining that I would like to make her into a coffee van, he agreed to sell her to me. Although the temptation to do a road trip to drive her up the East Coast was huge, in the end we decided to have her safely transported back home to Brisbane.”

Coffee Bella, one of Australia’s most well established manufacturers of coffee and food vans, is the company responsible for completing the fit out in just seven weeks. The coffee making machine and bean grinder are installed in the left side of the cargo area sat atop a couple of necessary fridges and next to a sink. A dividing wall runs down the length of the cargo bay area to separate off the other side that houses all the necessary auxiliary infrastructure such as a generator (rarely used as Lost Bean mainly operates from a regular mains powered site), clean water and grey water tanks, pumps, filters, batteries and inverters. This is where the double opening doors on the right hand side of the Bus come into their own, allowing all these components to be accessed directly through them, and in the back above the engine bay are two more fridges for a cold drink and cake selection should you not be in the mood for caffeine or want a little extra to go with it. It’s all so perfectly packaged inside the ever versatile VW Transporter.

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And what about the van’s name Florence and the business name Lost Bean? Elisa explains, “I knew she was a girl, however, I wanted to stay true to her vintage and elegance. Considering Florence was where our coffee machine was made, Florence Nightingale was such a strong female leader and the name means ‘prosperous/flourishing’ I thought that such a beautiful name really suited her.

“Our business name also has many meanings; including the reference to many Kombis and their owners getting ‘lost’ on their own adventures all the way through to respect for many coffee growers/pickers who will seek out each an every ‘lost bean’ because it has value to their livelihood. Our motto at Lost Bean is also a huge part of who we are and that is ‘Find yourself at Lost Bean’. After working in a highly demanding and at times stressful job, I realized I needed to find myself again and rediscover how amazingly positive people can be in this world. Lost Bean therefore now provides the opportunity for other people to find themselves again whilst enjoying a coffee.”

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Through Lost Bean Elisa shares her passion for great coffee and sustainable food. She is committed to delivering a positive impact on the environment and community in which she lives and seven days a week from 6.30am every morning until midafternoon she can be found alongside the river at Brisbane’s Southbank Parklands, close to the Nepalese Pagoda and Wheel of Brisbane, putting that philosophy into practice. Her coffee is lovingly crafted with Blackstar beans that are locally roasted and sustainably sourced from around the world and for those that take their coffee with milk that too is produced locally by a family run dairy located just north of Brisbane in the idyllic, rolling green hills of Maleny. In fact, the whole of the Lost Bean menu uses only organic or locally sourced products.

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And while serving her coffee Elisa loves to chat to her customers and find out a bit about them. “Since having Florence and the opportunity to meet so many interesting people, I have discovered how many people’s lives have been positively affected by VW Kombis or Beetles. So many people have childhood or adult adventure memories, that makes everyone smile when they are retelling their stories, even for the 50th time! So many people tell me that they wish they never soldtheir Kombi or they give me advice on how to keep it serviced or maintained. It’s fun to hear their memories and advice (albeit conflicting at times). I’ve also had the opportunity to meet a German man who has worked at the VW factory in Germany. His experience dates back to the original Kombi production days and he confessed that he continues to enjoy his job today. Wow!”

And we say “Wow!” to Elisa too. “Wow” to her courage and commitment to make such a dramatic change to her life, “Wow” to the financial investment she’s made to make it happen and “Wow” to Florence – what a superb machine.

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