Electric Cafe

This is a summary of an idea I’ve had for awhile that was rekindled when talking with my friend Mike who owns a Nissan Leaf.

A chain of restaurants that are primarily located in rural towns, serving “slow food” made with locally-grown ingredients.  Each franchise is located within 100 miles of a major metropolitan area, or another Electric Cafe location.

Each location features EV charging stations at every parking lot stall, allowing EV drivers to recharge their vehicles for free while they enjoy a well-made, wholesome meal.

Each location features local produce and other ingredients, so the menu varies but also contains a number of “staples” so that the fare is varied enough for the adventurous but does not alienate those who desire predictability while on the road.  In addition to meals other amenities such as coffee and Internet access are provided to encourage customers to “hang out” and relax while their vehicle is charged.

Proximity to metro areas (and at the intersection of metro-to-metro routes) ensures a supply of city-dwelling EV owners (where charging stations are more plentiful) that can be drawn safely out of the city because ample and fast charging is available.  Proximity to other Electric Cafes allows EV owners to travel cross-country from location to location allowing daily travel ranges otherwise not possible (expansion to provide overnight lodging could be an additional vector for growth that could allow EV’s to be used for truly long trips).

By concentrating EV owners in a relaxed atmosphere and encouraging them to “hang out” while their vehicles charge, Electric Cafe enjoys a strong “network effect” and encourages word-of-mouth advertising.  Since customers are drawn from disparate areas this word-of-mouth can travel from city to city easily, and the uniqueness of the cafe will also attract non-EV owners to visit and interact with EV culture.

In addition to marginally increasing employment via staff, management, etc., rural towns benefit from the additional traffic generated by visitors, but more importantly these are truly new visitors who would otherwise be unlikely to visit due to “range anxiety”.  Additionally, these towns are uniquely qualified to support the dining style of the Cafe, and the regional diversity encourages visitors to explore multiple locations.

There are electrical grid considerations when deploying a Cafe capable of peak electrical draws described here, however many rural towns were once home to large industrial manufacturing concerns and therefore retain the electrical infrastructure capable of supporting these large electrical capacities. Moreover, previously offline electrical generation sources as well as new renewable sources (wind, solar, etc.) are more deployable and less expensive to operate in rural areas.

Finally, the franchise model allows for the initial R&D and engineering costs associated with designing and tuning the model to be amortized through sharing with each new location.  Furthermore, other aspects of operating the Cafe (collaboration with utility companies, charging equipment providers and EV manufacturers) may be easier to negotiate as a group vs. a single entity/location.

I’ll be investigating what it would take to “bootstrap” such a business in my own small town.  If you’re interested in discussing this project feel free to contact me via twitter @jasonbot2000 .

- Jason