With their extra space and high roofs, the new Euro-style vans allow more flexibility when deciding how to customize them.
Business Fleet spoke with operators of three small businesses — a mobile coffee shop, a surf camp nonprofit, and an animal rescue shelter — to learn how they customized their Ford Transit vans to fit their business needs.
(Not) Seward’s Folly
David Seward and his brother Brian wanted to bring quality coffee service to music festivals throughout the Mid-Atlantic States. To do this, they decided to build a customized coffee shop on wheels.
“We customized the van ourselves,” says David Seward, co-owner of The Grateful Grail, which pays tribute to the Grateful Dead band. “It was a bit of trial and error. We have basic carpenter skills, but we learned as we went along.”
After purchasing a brand-new 2015 Ford Transit cargo van, the brothers got to work on installing an electric system. From there, they created a blueprint of how they wanted to set up their mobile coffee shop, including where to put the equipment and how it would work with the power system.
When not traveling to music festivals, the brothers operate their mobile coffee shop at a food truck park in downtown Baltimore during the workweek. Centrally located near Baltimore’s city hall, The Grateful Grail serves coffee, espresso and baked goods starting at 7 in the morning.
“The Transit is a great fit for us because we can park in smaller spaces,” says Seward. “It’s not a huge, bulky vehicle, and it has more maneuverability. It fits our needs as a coffee shop.”
The planning, designing, and building process took about two months.
“We designed and built the setup and had some help from a plumber and electrician,” says Seward. “It was a lot of long nights and days, but it’s our own personal endeavor. The van was ready for business last July.”
After creating the van’s blueprint and deciding where to place the equipment, the Seward brothers started acquiring equipment. The van features an espresso machine, coffee machine, sinks, a refrigerator, and a “kegerator” for nitro cold brew.
The Transit’s full sliding door has come in handy for The Grateful Grail. During operation hours, they place bakery cases within the sliding door space. The clear cases contain assorted baked goods, including muffins, desserts, and pastries like Danishes and turnovers.
The van’s wide sliding door is also helpful when trying to load larger pieces of equipment into the van, according to Seward.
All the equipment is powered through an on-board generator. “We have a breaker box in the van,” says Seward. “The generator is quiet; you can’t hear it while we are running our coffee machines.”
When looking to design the company logo and the outside of the van, the Seward brothers went to a local graffiti artist for inspiration. They had a few ideas but gave the artist creative freedom when designing the van with aerosol paint.
“We wanted our van to stand out,” says Seward. “We didn’t want to have a screen-printed vinyl wrap. The aerosol artwork brings it all together.”
Surfer Heals with ‘Woodie’ Van
After seeing how his autistic son responded to being in the ocean, Israel “Izzy” Paskowitz, a former professional surfer, started his nonprofit organization Surfers Healing.
“Isaiah loves the ocean,” says Paskowitz. “It is therapeutic and keeps him calm. In the water, he is happy and smiling.”
Twenty years later, Surfers Healing now hosts 25 free surf camps each year for children with autism. Based in Southern California, Surfers Healing also travels around the country and internationally — Mexico and Puerto Rico — to host camps.
For transporting the children and Surfers Healing’s volunteers to the camps, Paskowitz relied on his 1998 Ford Econoline van.
“Our van was very rusted and old,” Paskowitz says. “It was reliable but had close to 300,000 miles on it. I always worried about it breaking down.”
Through Ford’s Everyday Heroes campaign, Ford donated a 2015 Transit van to Surfers Healing.
“The campaign highlights different stories of people who embody the spirit of the Ford brand promise: people who go further for their communities, for their families, and even for their world,” says Julie Ellenberger, Ford brand manager for the Transit, Transit Connect, and E-Series. “When we found out about Izzy and what he was doing, his nonprofit seemed to fit the bill perfectly.”
Paskowitz loves the added roof rack that can transport 10 tandem surfboards. These 12-foot customized surfboards allow a volunteer and a child to ride on one at the same time; it’s great for teaching the kids how to surf, says Paskowitz.
Currently, the Transit has 41,000 miles on it. During the summertime, the van transported volunteers across the country to surf camps in the South, Southeast, and Northeast. When hosting local camps in San Diego, the kids and their families will ride in the van.
“I can get my boys around in style and take the children and their families in it,” says Paskowitz. “We are so grateful for Ford’s generosity.”
In addition to transporting passengers, Paskowitz likes that he can store surfing and beach equipment — such as wetsuits, life vests, and canopies — in the back of the van.
When the Transit was delivered, Paskowitz was surprised with a customized vehicle wrap.
Galpin Auto Sports designed the woodie-inspired wrap.
“Knowing what the van was being used for and after getting a creative direction from Ford who supplied the van, incorporating a surf and wave element was essential along with the woodie design,” says Brandon Boeckmann, operations manager at Galpin Honda.
In addition to the wrap, a logo was designed on the van. It features a dolphin with the Surfers Healing name. Galpin determined the size, color, and the placement of the logo on the van, according to Boeckmann.
“With the wood panel wrap, the van looks like a turquoise woodie,” says Paskowitz. “It’s so unique and grabs people’s attention when we are on the road. Our cool surf van was generated so beautifully.”
A Dog Guest House on Wheels
To transport more rescue dogs in one trip, Shultz’s Guest House purchased a Ford Transit cargo van. With the new van, the rescue shelter can carry up to 20 dogs during each trip.
“When looking at van types, we realized that a standard van wouldn’t work for transporting as many dogs,” says Jim Halpin, founder of Shultz’s Guest House, a nonprofit dog rescue shelter located on a 200-acre farm outside of Boston. “The Transit is a great vehicle for us. Being able to stand up is a big help to place the dogs in the kennels, and the taller roof allows us to fit more kennels.”
Shultz’s rescues dogs from kill shelters in Tennessee and brings them back to the Massachusetts facility to be rehabilitated. The dogs are then put up for adoption. Currently, the organization rescues about 500 dogs per year but has plans to open another center next door that will allow a total of 1,000 dogs to be rescued yearly, according to Halpin.
To pick up the dogs, Halpin puts approximately 1,000 miles on the van about once a week or every two weeks — depending on how many dogs are adopted and if there is space for more dogs at the farm.
After purchasing an empty Transit 2500 cargo van, Halpin and his employees installed all the kennels themselves. Each rolling kennel is permanently bolted inside the van.
“We bought standard kennels that you would find at a veterinarian’s office,” says Halpin. “Each dog usually has its own kennel, but we will put puppies together in the same kennel.”
The kennels are stacked and bolted on one side of the van and also in the back. According to Halpin, that leaves some room for storing supplies such as dog food, a first aid kit, and extra pop-up kennels in case more dogs are picked up.
The kennels come in three sizes. “We can customize the kennels depending on what we need,” says Halpin. “We can take the large ones and split them into two separate kennels.”
Before the new van setup, the dogs were transported in crates, which didn’t have separate trays for easy excrement removal. That meant stopping every three or four hours to walk the dogs so they could go to the bathroom.
“The Transit is great,” says Halpin. “You can customize it in so many different ways.”