A year ago it was just a sketch on a napkin. Today, Nitro Cart’s cold brew is frothing from taps across Rhode Island. From a pop-up in Providence, owners Audrey Finocchiaro and Sam Lancaster now have a brewing space in Pawtucket and, at the time of this interview, taps in 20 local restaurants and cafes. Given their explosive growth, from half a keg to 90 to 100 kegs a week, they’ll have added to that number by the time this issue goes to print. Jeans, hats and tats: It’s a disarming look from two young entrepreneurs straight out of college, but their business sense and enthusiasm for opportunity is as sharp as anyone’s. I chatted with Audrey about beans, bubbles and getting busted by the boys in blue.
You started a year ago, and now all of a sudden your taps seem to be following me around the state. What do you attribute this explosive growth to?
Really, it’s been customer-driven. People have told their favorite restaurants, “You know, a Nitro Cart tap would look awesome here.” Mostly we’ve had restaurant owners reach out to us to say, “We’ve heard a lot about you guys, we’ve had a lot of customers asking to put a nitro tap in, we want to talk.” It’s been awesome; it’s growing super fast and we’re super excited about it.
There’s something really grabby about just-poured nitro brew; is this a product that sells itself?
There’s a total allure to taps. The drink you’re going to be getting is super cold when it comes out, which I like. It pours with a cascade, like a Guinness, so I think the visual appeal of it has something to do with it. [But] I think our signature taste is even more important. All the time people come up to the cart and say they’ve had nitro in New York and LA, all over, and they’re like, “Yours is the best.” We have this Italian guy that comes to the cart every day. He says, “American coffee is crap, but not yours.”
Did you have any growing pains when you were just starting out?
When we first started out, we popped up right outside the Superman Building downtown. We had driven around a few days before, trying to find the spots with the most walking traffic. We thought, “This is amazing, I don’t know why there’s no other carts or food trucks over here, great.” We popped up there, [and] on the first day we did amazing, sold out, far past what we expected. The next day we showed up, and then shortly after the cops came and said, “You guys can’t be here.”
What’s next for you two? Have you thought about your own retail space?
For the next year or two we’re focused on getting to as many restaurants as we can, so as many people as possible can get to our product. We’ve talked about in the future doing something more like a brewery, maybe some alcoholic drinks, with coffees, teas and lemonade on tap.
That’s something we’ve played with. We’ve definitely talked about expanding so that our wholesale clients can choose varieties, kind of like a craft brewery. They could pick our signature blend, or a blend that brings out more sweetness, or a lighter blend, to give them more of a variety.
What beans make for good nitro brew?
It was a lot of trial and error, with the help of our roaster. Ultimately, we decided on pulling in seven different blends from all over. We created this custom one-of-a-kind blend that brings out tones of cocoa and smooth natural flavors. We always recommend that if you are doing your own cold brew at home, to use a dark roast and a coarse grind; that tends to bring out the best, smooth flavor.
Our roaster is Ken Rathers – he runs Rhody Roasters. He’s amazing, and has become a really good friend of ours. It’s been awesome to support a local person, because that’s what we really care about. We started getting one small bag of coffee every four weeks; now we get 60 bags of coffee every four days. He’s really excited too.