Lake Zurich-based mobile espresso bar serves up smiles, caffeine
On Friday, Cathy Philippsen set up her mobile coffee shop, called Latte Ladies, at the Barrington Christopher Club in Lake Zurich. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 28, 2012 6:16AM
LAKE ZURICH — It’s a welcome sight when Cathy Philippsen is found behind her umbrella cart, especially early in the morning.
As the proprietor of Lake Zurich-based Latte Ladies, Philippsen prides herself on serving up smiles as well as caffeinated drinks.
“People like to see us,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much fun it would be serving and brightening up their day.”
She initially went into business with her two sisters after witnessing a coffee caterer serve drinks at a baby shower in Michigan. Philippsen explained the cafe-on-wheels concept hails from the West Coast and coffee capital Seattle.
Next month, her mobile espresso bar will celebrate its eighth anniversary.
Though she had no prior experience in catering, restaurant work or coffee-slinging, she decided to create her own mobile cafe after taking a barista-training class in Tampa.
“I knew how to use a blender,” she said, “but I needed to learn how to use an espresso machine.”
Philippsen currently operates Latte Ladies with the help of two part-time workers.
They whip up custom-order drinks at a variety of functions across the Chicago area, from Orland Park to Rockford, and have traveled as far north as Milwaukee.
Late fall through spring is typically the company’s busiest time of year, averaging three to four events per week, Philippsen said.
During Teacher Appreciation Week in May, Latte Ladies typically caters up to seven events. Businesses also have sent Latte Ladies to a client’s office as a gesture of appreciation.
“It’s not like bringing in bagels for breakfast or sending in lunch,” Philippsen said. “This is unique and different.”
Guests who attended a fund-raiser for state Rep. JoAnn Osmond, R-Antioch, Lutheran Home’s Family Fall Festival in Arlington Heights, and an annual wrestling tournament at Palatine High School also have been able to indulge in the mobile espresso bar.
Over the years, Philippsen has expanded her menu to include non-coffee drinks, too, like fruit smoothies, hot chocolate and chai lattes.
While she said it’s hard to beat a warm Americano on cool day, she added that most customers request cold and ice-blended beverages.
Philippsen credits her husband, Tom, for creating one of the café-on-wheels’ more popular items: the coffee-free double fudge, which is as close as you’ll get to a chocolate shake, she explained.
Philippsen said her clients and customers have found the Latte Ladies’ concept cool, and the drinks tasty.
At a recent wedding, Philippsen said, a photographer enjoying a double espresso “fell in love with the beans” and told her the drink was comparable to his cafe experiences in Italy.
Latte Ladies uses a dark-roast from Italian-brand Musetti to concoct its specialty drinks, she said.
But Philippsen’s taste for high-quality coffee beans doesn’t come from years of frequenting European cafes. She hesitated to admit she is actually more of tea drinker herself.
Yet, she still knows her cup of joe.
“As long as I can tell you it’s good enough to serve, I’m not drinking up my profits,” she said.