Kyle Mayer is on a mission to create a community in Greater Hartford for motorsports enthusiasts. He’s been making efforts to roll out Petrolhead Café, a coffee shop/bar/restaurant concept that is currently seeking social and financial backing so it can launch in Hartford.
Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price caught up with Kyle to find out more about his plan.
NAN PRICE: You have quite a vision for Petrolhead Café. Tell us about it.
KYLE MAYER: Yes. The idea is to create a specific community here in Hartford and provide a space for people to enjoy entertainment in a new and different way. The space wouldn’t be a dive bar or a biker bar, more of a café-brewpub atmosphere where likeminded people can hang out.
The larger-scale vision is to join and participate in a movement of people who want Hartford to become a national destination.
NAN: Do you feel that Hartford is missing this kind of atmosphere?
KYLE: Yes, Hartford is definitely missing something like this. I think the time is right as well. This is a time when people are willing to embrace new ideas and new businesses. People are going to be more open to nurturing a better business climate. Personally, I want all services to be successful―it’s a sign the city is thriving.
NAN: Why Hartford?
KYLE: I grew up here. Hartford has a lot of potential people don’t realize. Overall, Connecticut has a lot of potential.
NAN: Have you met with any mentors or business advisors to talk about your plan?
KYLE: Yes, thanks to you, I connected with Connecticut mentor Eric Knight over the summer.
NAN: What did you gain from that discussion?
KYLE: Eric told me think like a lean startup and start with as little capital as possible. He encouraged me to start small. As a visionary, I want to go big or go home! But I’m taking his advice on that.
Eric also discouraged me from focusing on a lengthy business plan—by the time you complete it, it’s obsolete. Instead he said I should focus on a Business Model Canvas.
The vision for Petrolhead Café includes providing high-quality coffee products, food, and locally brewed craft beer.
Eric advised me to partner with an existing brewery, perhaps even set up a small “pop-up” restaurant in an existing space. Working with food is complicated, so I’m hoping to start with coffee and small bites. Right now, I’m looking to partner with an existing brewery or brewpub to test the business concept.
Based on mentoring with Eric, I’ve been reaching out to some local brewpubs, including Hog River Brewing Co., to talk about the idea and hopefully get it started.
I started homebrewing in 2011 and I did some work in the industry, so I made some connections. I’ve stayed involved in the industry. For instance, through my connection with the owner of Pretzel Haus in West Hartford, I met the owners of Alvarium Beer Company in New Britain.
NAN: Have you connected with any other mentors formed any collaborations?
KYLE: I’ve gotten some assistance from the owner of the building I manage in Waterbury, who has been a mentor to me. His family is very entrepreneurial, so he’s got a lot of connections and advice.
As for collaborations, nothing is set in stone yet. I’ve been chatting with friends and family. My extended family is on board and has offered to help plan partnerships when the time comes. My sister is an interior designer, so she’ll help once we have a brick and mortar space.
NAN: What do you most need to move the business forward?
KYLE: Partnership is key.
NAN: Have you been doing any marketing to get the word out about Petrolhead Café?
KYLE: I’m not too focused on the marketing until I have a place for people to go. But I have been getting the word out, mostly organically, by word of mouth. I started an email list and have been giving away t-shirts with our logo to those who sign up. And I’ve been attending local events, like Middletown Motorcycle Mania. Which made me wonder: Why isn’t something like this happening in Hartford?
NAN: You mentioned having a brick and mortar space—is that the eventual plan for the café? What does the future look like?
KYLE: Yes, that’s the plan for a few years out, once we’re up and running full-throttle. I’d like it to be a café in the morning, with a steady stream, offering coffee and small bites and enabling people to comfortably work in the space. The café would serve newer American pub fare and small plates during the lunch and dinner hours. I’d really like to feature BBQ smoked brisket as well.
I also want to host evening activities. Several years ago, I caught the bug for watching motorcycle racing. I’d like to make following races accessible to local people, so they can hang out and watch. But I don’t want it to be all races all the time. Maybe we’ll show episodes of Top Gear, motorcycle-themed movies, or programs about more niche sports.
The goal is to build motorcycle culture. I definitely want to encourage more people to get on motorcycles—they’re a lot more fuel-efficient than cars.
NAN: I love being a motorcycle passenger and I my driver and I always wear a helmet. But I’m going to play devil’s advocate and mention—most people think riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than riding in a car.
KYLE: That’s why eventually I’d like to offer some motorcycle safety workshops, as the number one factor in the safety of riding is the rider themselves. There are a lot of assumptions and stereotypes we in the community need to overcome. I’m an instructor with the Connecticut Rider Education Program (ConRep) at Manchester Community College, and I tell my students I’ve never crashed—because it’s true! It’s possible to ride crash-free. I also want to host how-to type events. This would enable people to bring in their motorcycle and learn how to change the oil, sprockets, etc. I really want the space to be community-based.
I want the causal patron to walk away from experience thinking: That was a really interesting experience. I want to it to create a word-of-mouth buzz.