The Miami Herald

Bringing java power to the people

Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman has turned her passion for coffee into a new part-time job: mobile barista.

Heyman said the idea for her coffee-shop-on-wheels -- the aptly named Coffee Brake -- dawned on her after frequent vacations in Oregon and Washington, where gourmet coffee is part of everyday life.

"I want to make great coffee and make it accessible to people, " she said.

Heyman, a lawyer, dreamed of owning her own specialty coffee store for years. Last week, after months of trial runs at charity events, she rolled into the parking lot at the Richard E. Gerstein criminal justice building, hoping her coffee would create a buzz.

SALES PITCH

As Heyman opened shop at 7 a.m., jurors, lawyers, clerks and regular citizens filed past her white minibus, complete with a retractable awning and small, fold-out chairs.

"Fresh coffee, fresh baked goods!" Heyman called out, letting no potential customer pass without a sales pitch. If a customer replied they already had coffee, she yelled back, "But mine's better!"

Most customers had no clue their coffee was being brewed and served by an elected official. Sometimes, Heyman engaged her customers on political issues without telling them her role in county government.

After Felix Rijo, 28, bought a small coffee and stayed for a while, Heyman asked, "Did you see the mayor's budget? . . . Chop, chop, chop, " she said, using her fingers as imaginary scissors.

Like Rijo, many customers are amused by the talkative Heyman, who wears shorts and sandals to work.

"It's kind of honest. At least this part is, " said Rijo, pointing at the van with his lips.

Heyman is gearing up for a 2010 reelection bid in District 4, but she said her company is not a public relations ploy.

She also said her three-hour coffee shifts are scheduled around her public duties.

"One has nothing to do with the other, " said Heyman, who also practices law part time.

"I have always maintained a job while I was elected."

E-MAIL CHECK

As customers came and went, Heyman toggled through dozens of e-mails on her BlackBerry. Some were from constituents chiming in on the county's budget woes, or asking her to preserve parks.

Heyman said she handpicked her coffee beans from Pacific roasters, but she keeps her blend a secret.

Her brew is a full-flavored, medium roast.

At $1.50 for a latte or regular brewed coffee, and $2 for a cortadito, "It's more affordable than Starbucks, " said Tiffany Fischer, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Barry University. "That works for me any day of the week."




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