Toronto

Ground down by the pandemic, coffee truck owner switches from java to jabs

A gourmet delivery coffee company that's been idled by the pandemic is putting its fleet of trucks to good use as mobile pop-up vaccination clinics.

New company delivering up doses of COVID-19 vaccine rather than cups of coffee

Health-care workers with East Toronto Health Partners and Michael Garron Hospital conduct a COVID-19 vaccine clinic out of a Fleet Coffee catering truck, outside Teesdale Place apartments, in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A gourmet delivery coffee company that's been idled by the pandemic is putting its fleet of trucks to good use — as mobile pop-up vaccination clinics.

Kirk Tobias, CEO of Fleets Coffee, said he came up with the idea after the provincial lockdown forced him to suspend most of the operations at his fledgling company. 

"We could all sit at home and cry, or we could actually try to make a difference," Tobias said.

"Our trucks have three fridges. We have one freezer. So we have a lot of capacity to hold vaccine doses that need to be held at a constant temperature."

His five trucks, each about 10-metres long — or the size of a TTC bus — are roomy enough to carry medical equipment, tables, chairs and medical staff from site to site easily.

Volunteer Norris Neil, who helps run Fleets Coffee's vaccination services, near one of the refrigerators that make the trucks so valuable to medical technicians holding pop-up immunization clinics. Here, he gives a tour of one truck at the pop-up clinic outside Teesdale Place apartments on Wednesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Tobias came up with the idea earlier this year. His head office is in the L4K postal code, around Highway 7 and Jane Street, identified as a COVID-19 hot spot. Yet, his employees weren't eligible to be vaccinated because they live outside the region.

"Our area is on fire. People are dying that work in factories, and it really upsets me that I can't protect our team," he said.

"And so we made a commitment that day, saying, 'We want to go into the hot spots with our trucks.'" 

But he says few of the public health authorities he approached were interested. Finally, staff at Michael Garron Hospital agreed to work with him. And the partnership, he says, has worked out well.

WATCH | Volunteers help deliver vaccines using coffee trucks:

This gourmet coffee truck owner is helping deliver COVID-19 vaccines

Toronto

3 months ago
2:13
The owner of a fleet of gourmet coffee trucks is helping deliver shots across hot spots in the GTA. No, not shots of espresso — COVID-19 vaccinations. Kirk Tobias had to suspend his new business, Fleets Coffee, when the province locked down. Instead of business as usual, he turned his five refrigerated gourmet coffee trucks into mobile vaccination clinics, volunteering his time and equipment to help the community. 2:13

A typical day begins with one of his trucks picking up a load of vaccines at a depot on Overlea Boulevard.

His team and the truck then head to their assigned hot-spot vaccination clinic for the day.

"Some may say we're a jack-of-all-trades.... We pick up all the medical equipment that they're going to need — tables, chairs, needles — and we bring it to the location where they're going to do inoculations.

Turned off the tap

"In addition, if somebody, for either medical reasons or religious reasons, can't expose their arm, they use our truck to actually do an inoculation privately."

In more normal times, Tobias's trucks would be parked by GO Transit stations. He has a contract with Metrolinx that allows commuters to use an app to place their gourmet coffee order before leaving the house. They then pick it from a Fleets Coffee truck by their local station.

Kirk Tobias, Fleets Coffee CEO and founder, stands with one of his five trucks, which normally serve gourmet coffee but have been transformed into mobile vaccination clinics. The trucks are almost as long as a city bus and were easily transformed into mobile vaccination clinics, he says. (Mike Smee/CBC)

The company started up last year. But before he could pour his first cup of coffee, the pandemic turned off the tap.

"COVID has tried to destroy our business, [but] it hasn't destroyed our spirit," Tobias said. 

"We could all sit at home and cry, or we could actually try to make a difference."

Nasser Kaid, 53, gets a shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from a health-care worker with East Toronto Health Partners at the pop-up clinic on Wednesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

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