North Texas Daily

Mobile coffee shop Java Rocket blasts off with caffeine, community

Mobile coffee shop Java Rocket blasts off with caffeine, community

Mobile coffee shop Java Rocket blasts off with caffeine, community
October 18
00:49 2018

Many sleep-deprived, midterm-ridden students recently discovered a new caffeine fix around Denton, only to find upon return that the mysterious coffee source had vanished. But this coffee shop is not a mirage — just mobile.

Java Rocket is a traveling coffee startup that can be found both day and night in front of various Denton locations, such as Tom’s Daiquiri Place and East Side Denton. The traveling trailer features fresh, local brews and is considered a favorite of many UNT art students who often begin their mornings directly across from the rocket. 

The business, which recently celebrated its six-month anniversary, is owned and operated solely by Dean Underdahl, with the occasional assistance of his 11-year-old son.

“This was all an idea I started thinking about a couple of years ago,” Underdahl said. “Just thinking about how I could work independently and maybe start my own business.”

Underdahl worked for many years in the bar industry and understood the huge undertaking of making a bar successful. He witnessed 80 to 85 percent of new bars collapse within the first two years and decided to try a different avenue for his business venture.

He always enjoyed coffee and considered the beverage to be a personal interest to him. During his European travels in the beer and wine industry, Underdahl noticed the popularity of small beverage carts that were infrequent in the U.S. The idea came to minimize his dream of a coffee shop into a smaller, more affordable startup.

In December, Underdahl was laid off. He thought he would continue to work in the alcohol industry but was beaten out by a competitor in an important job interview. At that moment he knew his dream had to become a reality.

Java Coffee set up outside of Eastside Bar. The interior of the coffee bar was all made by the owner himself. Omar Gonzalez

“I immediately went into crisis prevention mode,” Underdahl said. “The funny thing was, I remember not getting completely nervous and stressed out [like I should have been]. It was like everything was really clear for me at that point and it was almost good because it was less distraction. It was like, ‘OK, now you know what you need to do,’ and that was the start of it.”

The first concept was to house the startup out of a food truck or van. However, Underdahl did not want his business to depend on a motor and possibly spend valuable business hours trapped in the jowls of an auto repair shop. Thus, he acquired a smaller teardrop trailer, which allowed him more flexibility and the ability to invest more into the high-quality equipment that actually makes the coffee.

The rolling stone known as Java Rocket was born on April 13 and has been gaining momentum ever since.

Underdahl is a strong believer in night coffee and can be found around town long after the sun has set, working the Rocket both late nights and early mornings. While there is no shortage of coffee shops in Denton, the mobility of Java Rocket and its flexible business hours create a niche for the startup in a crowded ecosystem.

“First off, the coffee is amazing,” said Brett Fields, owner of Tom’s Daiquiri Place. “Java Rocket offers a wide variety of styles and flavors with on-the-go convenience. Dean’s set up and the trailer allows him to be flexible, which is great for both his business and his customers.” 

The cooperation of local businesses, love of coffee and spiraling energy levels of sleepless students make Denton the perfect place for a startup like Java Rocket.

“Coffee carts are a big deal in many parts of the world,” said James Combs, owner of Combs’ Coffee and supplier of Java Rocket. “There is always room for more high-quality coffee in the area. I love how accepting Denton is of its budding entrepreneurs. There is always something going on in Denton, and Dean’s mobility allows him to serve high-end, coffee shop-quality coffee anywhere.”

Underdahl has many ideas on how to expand Java Rocket in the coming months, from adding additional trailers or trucks to eventually opening a brick-and-mortar venue. However, he is keeping the details of his most innovative idea a little hush-hush.

While he is currently unable to elaborate on the specific details, Underdahl announced he has begun conversations with local venues about incorporating alcohol with Java Rocket’s coffee in a joint business venture.

“Bars are starting to pop up now on the East and West Coasts called coffee labs,” Underdahl said. “From being in the alcohol industry, I always try to think outside of the box. What is somebody else not doing? The ideas of playing around with smoke and nitrogen — the same things you do with cocktails — you could totally do it with coffee. You could do it with coffee cocktails [and] you can create non-alcoholic coffee cocktails. We’ll have to see what this conversation brings, but I think that within the next year, if everything works out, that could come to fruition.”

For Underdahl, having friendly and collaborative relationships with other local businesses is what Denton is all about. He believes there are plenty of great coffee shops in Denton and is a frequent patron of Shift Coffee, Aura Coffee and even Starbucks.

“Relationships are really important to me,” Underdahl said. “I love to get together and collaborate with bars, coffee shops, restaurants, other food trucks and things like that because really, I think of myself as not necessarily competing with the food trucks. I’m an accessory — I’m an add-on.”

However, the most important relationship to Underdahl is his relationship with his customers. He is constantly working toward improving his business and places the majority of his income back into Java Rocket. From changing the prices of his vegan alternatives so as not to penalize someone for their health or beliefs, to committing to 100 percent compostable straws and eco-friendly cups, Underdahl takes his customers’ interests and concerns seriously. 

While Underdahl struggled through the student shortage of the summer and has had to make adjustments to his startup along the way, he is optimistic about the future of Java Rocket and plans to someday hand the business down to his son.

“I now have a positive outlook,” Underdahl said. “If you had interviewed me three months ago, I may have been a little bit more tired. I’m still tired, but I think with a positive attitude and with a ‘failure is not an option’ type of a deal, I think anybody can make anything work.”

Featured Image: Dean Underdahl (right) hands his customer his cup of coffee. In addition to the standard orders of coffee, Java Rocket offers vegan alternatives. Omar Gonzalez

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Slade Meadows

Slade Meadows

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