By Otto Pippenger
For the past five weeks students at City College’s Ocean Campus have been greeted by the bright chrome of a 1965 Airstream Caravel trailer parked outside the Diego Rivera theater. Inside that trailer is Swell Ice Cream & Coffee, a new business run by longtime friends and now partners Ta Ratana and Benson Chiu.
From 8 a.m to 5 p.m. on weekdays the food truck offers pastries, double rainbow ice cream, drip, espresso and pour-over coffee from local coffee vendor Ritual Coffee Roasters. Benson has taken an ice cream making course through Penn State and hopes to offer new flavors of his own in the near future.
Chiu was eager to discuss the quality of their coffee, “we use only 80 point and up coffee beans – the specialty coffee scene is about roasting to the first crack. If they’re low quality roasting longer helps to mask the flavor, we only roast to the first.”
Ratana a former engineer and Chih who had been working in digital media are long time friends who had dreamed of opening a coffee shop ever since 2010 visit to Thailand as part of a church group brought them into doing non-profit work for at risk Thai youth. Their organization Re:Acts Ministries provides housing and necessities for the children of Thailand’s hill tribes who come into the cities for work or education but often find themselves without community support or housing.
According to Ta, their initial plan was to open a coffee shop in Thailand in order to offer work to those young people while purchasing coffee from their farmer parents and reinvest the profits in their ministry work. “That’s a big step,” Ta said “so we decided to practice here first.”
The pair said that profits have been rising every week since they filled in last minute as a vendor in early March 2017.“This is week five and we’re still building, which we’re very happy about,” Ta said.
Swell’s proprietors hope to assume a regular contract at the end of this semester but said the matter is still undecided. Kathy Hennig, head of City College’s purchasing department said that “they’re wonderful people with a very good product” but she also added in an interview that the small product range may present a stumbling block to Swell’s continued presence here.
“We’ve met a lot of very cool people,” said Benson “getting to know faculty and student’s names and their aspirations. City College has been good to us so far and we hope the community here likes us enough to have us back.”
Owners and business partners Ta Ratana (left) and Benson Chiu (right) with menu in front of Swell Cream & Coffee. Picture by Otto Pippenger, April 17, 2017.