What Would They Know? Mary Horwill of Pookie May and Pookie Ray

by | Food & Catering Wisdom, What Would They Know?, Wisdom

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Polka Dot Bride
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Imagine a 1940’s vintage teardrop caravan making it’s way to your wedding. A talking point for sure and hidden inside are refreshments – coffee, tea, cold drinks, hot chocolate or chai. Just the thing to offer your guests after the ceremony, or to give them fortification for the drive home once the wedding day is over. Try Pookie May or Pookie Ray as a bar set up with vintage ice buckets and champagne coupes, or add some yummy cakes to fill hungry tummies. The charm of these caravanettes will be a talking point for many of your older guests as they relive memories of perhaps a seaside holiday in one of these – maybe towed by the family’s pride and joy – an FX Holden. And to have a new life serving great coffee at a happy occasion is a fitting reincarnation for these little treasures. Let’s join Mary as she tells us her story.

What made the decision for you to buy little caravans and offer them for celebratory occasions?

 It all came together when my brother was looking for a coffee set up for his studio/gallery in Northcote 4 years ago.

I put my hand up for the task, and the vision came to me instantly. My love of vintage, love of events and love of coffee lead me to hunt around for the classic Teardrop caravanettes.

This was the beginning of my Pookie May journey. There were a few considerations. The set up had to be small enough that I could manage on my own. There had to have a point of difference and I had to find an original build (teardrop caravanettes were popular in the 40’s-50’s). Very hard to do… so the search continued for 6 months until I stumbled (upon) and fought very hard for our little old lady Pookie May, and original 1947 hand built Teardrop. Pookie Ray, an original 1949 build, would join our family 3 years later.

Image by Mary of Pookie May

Where did you find them?

I came across Pookie May online during my research. She was initially listed for sale online, however, her owner had a change of heart and she was no longer available.

Pookie May lived in Yarrawonga. I fell in love with her immediately and had to have her! It took a little convincing for the owner to finally relinquish her. After much discussion, and my obsession obvious to the owner, she was mine. He also kindly drove her down to Melbourne, as a final road trip in his care.

3 years later Pookie Ray practically fell in my lap, when a dear friend of mine came across him online and gave me the heads up. He was located on a large property in Tarneit amongst tractors, trucks and amazing vintage collectables. There was no hesitation in having him join our teardrop family.

Image by Bill Papadinas

How did you envisage the interiors and actually convert them into a coffee cart and bar?

The interior was a challenge initially as the teardrop is rather small as far as caravans go.

There were regulations I needed to adhere to for council to approve it as a mobile unit.

The space I had to work with needed to be practical, ensuring my equipment (coffee machine, grinder etc) fit in the space, as well as meeting all the council health requirements, ie: sinks, tap, appropriate water/cleaning storage, fridge etc.

How long did the renovation process take and what did you learn along the way?

The process took approximately 6 months. It was not only the layout of the interior but also finding the most compact coffee machine, and other equipment needed. Lots of research, trial and error, mistakes and small victories.

Image by Mary of Pookie May

Cute names – how did you think of them?

At the time of setting up un-named Pookie May, my youngest daughter’s nickname was Pookie. On turning 2, she firmly stomped her feet and demanded we stopped calling her Pookie. And we did, only to have our new little caravan inherit the name.

Pookie Ray was named in line with Pookie May, as her brother, Ray.

Images by Mary of Pookie May

Please describe Pookie May?

Pookie May is a quirky old lady. As a 70-year-old caravan, she attracts a lot of interest. She is definitely a talking point when she’s out and about.

Our customers share many stories, telling of memories of teardrops being a part of life in the ’40s-’50s, many couples using them for honeymoons and road travels.

Her conversion has proved a great second lease of life on the road, and we hope to contribute to many more memories and events.

Does she just serve coffee or are there other drinks available too?

Primarily she is set up as a coffee caravanette. Her specialty is coffee, however, we do serve, chai, hot chocolates and a range of teas, and iced teas and coffees in the warmer months.

Is the coffee you serve a special blend from a specialist roaster?

Melbourne offers an amazing array of coffee roasters.

I love the idea of supporting small local business also and have found a blend I personally enjoy from the lovely folks at Red Bean Coffee Roasters.

Red Bean Roasters was our local go-to café for weekend breakfast and the ‘Pope Clement’ blend was one I loved. These guys also use Rainforest Alliance Certified Beans, which is super important. We also work with the wonderful Brendan at Bonnacci Roasters – they also have an amazing blend I enjoy using for super special events, especially weddings

How do you ensure that the coffee you make is the perfect cup with guests wanting more?

Consistency of coffee is critical, and hence the importance of good quality coffee beans, and full trust in my supplier. However, for me, it is more than just a cup of coffee itself. It’s a complete experience. Especially when it comes to private events, such as weddings. I aspire to create memories, with a focus on the interaction with guests.

Image by Mary of Pookie May

Anything else on offer to go with the coffee?

We do also offer pastries, friands, cakes and muffins!

Are there other things she can be used for?

Although she was originally set up for Coffee, she can pretty much be applied to any service. Tea House, Cake Shop, Bar etc. Anything you can imagine she can be dolled up for.

Pookie May does tend to go to many markets, and events around Melbourne, handing over the private event space to Pookie Ray.

Image by The Social Sister Project

And please describe Pookie Ray?

Pookie Ray is the younger sibling and a dapper chap. His focus is on private events, such as engagements, weddings, parties etc. His neutral colours allow him to fit in with the wonderful personalised setting at weddings and engagements etc.

At a wedding or event, what can Pookie Ray be used for? How does he differ from Pookie May?

Both Caravanettes offer a similar service, ranging from coffee shop to bar, however, Ray has made the commitment to be single-use free. This is easily achievable at private events, with us supplying ceramic cups etc, in place of paper cups.

Being single-use free can difficult to achieve as a mobile unit, and Pookie May is yet to commit as she often attends public events and festivals.

With the popularity of alternative milk products is this something you offer at weddings or events?

Yes, we offer a range of alternative milk. The ever-popular soy and almond milk, as well as the growing demand for coconut, oat, rice, spelt and more.

We are often involved in vegan events and understand the importance of offering a great range for people to try.

Image by Mary of Pookie May

What steps do you take to reduce waste such as cups, straws etc?

Well, as mentioned before, Pookie Ray is committed to being Single use free, so no paper cups, Plastic straws are banned at his events.

With some of our public events, we offer the use of our own mug library. Mugs have kindly been donated to us from within our communities, and these have been received with positivity, by the end user. It has encouraged more conversation around single use, and I’m finding an increase in the BYO reusable option at our regular events and market spaces.

How important is this to you in your everyday life and how you run your business?

Being a mobile business has its challenges. We fall under the banner of ‘convenience’ which has always been a difficult thing for me personally.

There has been a shift in some event spaces, where organizers seek waste-free options, often working with us to minimise waste.

I feel it is important for me to do as much as I can to reduce my impact.

Small steps make a world of difference, and this translates into my everyday life.

Image by Mary of Pookie May

Please describe some ways Pookie May and Pookie Ray have been used at weddings?

We love a good wedding. We offer a range of different setups.

As we do many wedding at vineyards and estates, the obvious service times are either between ceremony and reception, while the bride and groom take off to have their photos taken, or end of evening service, to ensure guests leave the night feeling caffeinated.

Another fun set up is the breakfast recovery, where overnight guests are treated to a morning coffee service. They are always super happy to see us!

How far and wide have you travelled with the Pookies?

Being a mobile unit, we love travelling. Working within Melbourne is great and we experience many great event spaces, however, we do love a country drive and are happy to travel. Maybe one day our journey will take us interstate!

Image by Jess White Photography with Betty May Vintage Hire

How have Pookie May and Pookie Ray changed your life?

Since establishing Pookie May I feel my world has become a smaller place. There is an amazing network of small business’, and a focus on working together.

No weekend is the same. New venues, new events, new people…it’s wonderful.

The influence on my family life has been great also, with my children being heavily involved within many aspects of the business. They often come along to community events, help out with small errands, and are quickly learning the art of coffee and customer service. They love hearing of my adventures and appreciate that mum’s workspace is an amazing one.

They also have their eye on inheriting the caravanettes and all the excitement!

Thank you, Mary, for sharing your story. Serve your coffee and drinks in style from a gorgeous little vintage caravan all decked out in its Sunday best. For more information about Pookie May and Pookie Ray visit the website.

Headshot courtesy of Pookie May

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