Former UK police officer brings Icelandic locals & tourists together
in this school bus turned coffee shop.
Looking for a remote place to enjoy bus life and a good cup of coffee... In Iceland? In the shadow of a volcano?? Check out Skool Beans Cafe with your hosts Holly Keyser and Jeffarious Edwardious the First aka Jeffrey the bus cat.
My name is Holly Keyser. I am a 38-year-young woman, UK born, Australian resident, Icelandic resident, former police officer, “small changes make a big difference fighter” and entrepreneur! Haha! I was a police officer for ten years in the UK, I took a career break to go traveling while raising money for the local Air Ambulance in the UK. After a year of travel, I moved to Australia and stayed in Melbourne for a little over six years. Wishing to be closer to home, I came to Iceland to be a Glacier Guide and have been settled in Iceland for the last three years. I opened the newest addition to Iceland's hospitality scene on the 01st August 2020, Skool Beans coffee bus, located in the southernmost town of Iceland, Vik.
Make: Thomas Vista
Model: School Bus
Motor: NO idea! (That’s terrible I know!)
Current Location: Vik, South Iceland
Purchased From/Location: A guiding company in Iceland who used to use it to convey clients to and from the river for river rafting trips
Cost in materials for the conversion: Full conversion not including stock 14,500 USD (Roughly… Iceland is VERY expensive!)
Total time from purchase date to on the road: 2 years
Interviewee: Holly Keyser and Jeffarious Edwardious the First (Jeffrey)
Why a bus?
After living in Melbourne for so long it was clear that the food truck industry was a massive deal.
Top chefs who would normally be hidden away in a restaurant were suddenly able to open incredible food outlets with low overheads in creative and flexible environments. The low overheads were reflected in the affordable cost of the takeaway opinions which opened up a new wave of great quality food choices for everyday people.
When I arrived in Iceland I was… let’s just say a little disappointed in the hot drink scene, to say the least. I felt like many places outside of the capital city (Reykjavik) lacked creativity and pride in what they were offering. Only catering towards coaches of tourists and not necessarily considering the locals. This was not true for all cases but there seemed to be an uneven balance.
Obviously Iceland has an extreme climate so having a standard food truck was not an option. The wind can literally roll cars over and smash through windows!
I wanted to revolutionize the food truck industry in Iceland by allowing people to come inside to order, wait and sit and enjoy their purchase.
The health and safety department reviewed my case and thankfully allowed the blurred line between restaurants and food trucks to work in my favour and ta daaaa! Skool Beans opened!
Where did you convert your bus?
The bus was already in Iceland and formally owned by a guiding company who let is just sit and rot for two years in a yard in the belief that it was broken down beyond repair!
BUT… I had an amazing friend who learnt how to become a mechanic on that exact bus!! He told me he could fix it, I offered them less than scrap value for it and they accepted 600 USD for it!!!! Two new batteries and an ignition wire later and away we drove to their frustration!
I converted it for the first year on the driveway of my house in Iceland. I have VERY kind neighbours who didn’t mind the overhanging bus on the pavement outside of the house and local police officers and a town mayor who were very supportive of the project. You see, it’s more than just a food truck for the town, it’s a new concept here in Iceland that elevates the coffee scene and connects tourists and locals together with a few simple elements I've included within the bus.
Now, “why did it take two god damn years to convert?” That’s simple… I did it all myself.
Learning, making mistakes, correcting mistakes, and working full-time to save for the conversion myself meant that it just took this long.
I can’t tell you how many YouTube videos I watched, or how many desperate or teary calls I made to my father but eventually, I got it done.
I have to admit, I had help from amazing friends for the jobs that would have been silly of me to try such as the electricity and the counter building. Especially because I used some beautiful dark wood and it cost me over a month's salary!
My Dad saved the day a couple of times when he came to visit and a local Icelandic friend saved all of the other days that I needed saving! I can proudly say that most of the work and every inch of the design and concept was my brainchild and my efforts. I feel super proud of the outcome which is a fantastic feeling.
What type of skills for the bus conversion did you have prior and what did you learn or teach yourself so far?
I had zero experience in conversions like this but a lot of experience in interior design and concept construction, I felt confident in the space and zones I was creating but the actual conversion was a massive learning curve. I have no idea there were metal self-tapping screws or if something was galvanized or not or what epoxy resin or epoxy glue was! My goodness, I think I could write a book about it all now to help out others in my situation!
I have to say though, I feel pretty badass knowing what I do now about Skoolie conversions!
Tips/tricks/advice to help others have who want/are converting a vehicle? Something you wish you had known going into this? Any current troubles?
I wish I had known more about roof hatched and window leaks because Iceland is extreme when it comes to wind and rain. Depending on what country you live in and how much access you have to materials, the budget is so important. Iceland is crazy expensive and for anyone who has been here, I’m certain they will agree.
If I were to do another conversion, and I plan on doing so, I would map out the zoning and create a budget for each area. I would buy the right tools and suck up the cost of those tools because trying to make the wrong tools work only takes up way more time and probably ends up costing you more in the long run. You can get great second-hand tools online in most countries, or borrow them and if you decide to buy them, you can always sell them afterward.
Finally, tidy up at the end of each construction day so that the next day is begun with an organised space.
What is the most unique feature of your conversion?
Wow, this is a great question because it’s a really unique concept here in Iceland. I didn’t insulate it because I really needed the height space, I didn’t add a funky door or a deck on the roof. I just kept the internal structure of the bus as an empty shell and added to it.
So…. because of that, I added a big log burning stove that would normally be used in a house or larger building. It’s great! It looks stunning, it smells divine from the outside and it kicks out enough heat to keep people warm even on a freezing day.
Aside from that, I would say the stunning Icelandic sweater that was custom made for the driver's seat, haha! It was made by a local girl who can knit a traditionally and as a gift to the bus she knitted a custom seat cover in the style of an Icelandic sweater!
Conversion aside, I think the Bacon and Mapel latte is pretty unique (And of course the resident cat “Jeffarious, Edwardious the first” who was described on Trip Advisor as “A hospitable gentleman!!”
What about the bus has helped you be successful in reaching your lifestyle goals?
I want to revolutionise the food truck industry here in Iceland and bring in a new idea that can allow others to follow in my footsteps. So far I have been a roaring success in only 20 days, attracting media attention from Icelandic news reporters from all channels. Not only because I have opened a business in the midst of a global pandemic, but because of the concept.
Skool Beans in the smallest micro-roastery in the country. I’m the only Tea-lab in the country, offering 25 varieties of tea from around the world and making handmade soaps and face scrubs from the tea and coffee I offer.
I’m here to show people what they should expect and to push environmental awareness. I am organic and fair trade, plastic-free and I promote “responsible disposal” by offering a 10isk cash reward for anyone who returns their cup to me. This way I can assure that I minimise littering and promote recycling.
All of the takeaway cups are biodegradable and I use organic chocolate for the chocolate drinks where I experiment with different styles of chocolate mixology: white chocolate, lemon juice, and black pepper. Smoked dark chocolate and beetroot and bitter chocolate and Turkish candy floss are just a few options on the menu.
Along with that, I have “screen-free hours” where I try and promote conversations with humans rather than technology. So far, that’s a great success and I also have a free book exchange. The book exchange is a way for tourists to offload heavy books in exchange for any book they choose. It’s also a way for locals to have access to the latest books. For free… Because it’s nice to be nice.
I am the only provider in Iceland of the Happy News and I think there is no better time than to have that available.
So… My life goal… To make people a little more considerate… and to hopefully pay off my home loan in doing so!
How has the pandemic affected bus life for you?
It’s odd because Iceland was almost unaffected by the pandemic. That was until other countries allowed for travel. Iceland was then hit with a new wave of COVID19 and consequently started to enforce a strict quarantine rule. These rules came into effect 24 hours before Skool Beans was due to open. I think I thought about delaying the opening for about 5 seconds before I figured, “Hey, we need a space like this at this time.”
I opened with strict COVID social distancing rules, applied online ordering systems, and a drive-through option, and apparently, Iceland is pretty happy with it.
I have people traveling for 2 hours to try the beans I roast and so far I am in the running for the best coffee in Iceland. The media loves it because I have opened a business in the toughest time and the locals are shows a huge army of support and even local restaurants such as The Soup Company are sending people my way.
Collaborations between me and cheesemakers in the Westmann Islands (Vestmannajar) are in the making and I think as a whole, Iceland is standing strong and supporting a space where only positivity is enforced! I mean, even the password for the WIFI is ‘Have a great day” and the first rule when you enter is “It’s nice to be nice.”
This is all new in Iceland and normally new places are only targeting tourists and fast cash. Skool Beans is wanting to push amazing produce and happy vibes. And…. it’s a massive yellow skoolie in the middle of Iceland underneath a gigantic volcano that could erupt any day (Katla) so that get s a fair bit of interest flowing!!!
Where do you project you’ll be three months from now?
Hmmmmm.. Well stricter rules just came into play so it’s a toughy, that question, but I really hope that I will be able to tick along smoothly. Perhaps it will quiet down and I can work on collaborations with other local companies and introduce coffee roasting events and chocolate mixology nights to at least keep the locals engaged and give them things to look forward to at this time.
All going to plan, I hope in three months I will have proved to Iceland that we took can have an all year round food truck industry and that can be used to showcase exceptional goods with low overheads in creative spaces and locations.
How can people learn more about you (social media, website, etc.)?
Awesome! My website (Which I need to update and make a LOT better) is www.skoolbeans.com
Instagram is @skool_beans and Facebook is Skool Beans. I’m pretty active on Instagram and I try and make sure that anyone that shares a story gets shared by me again as a thank you for supporting this small and mighty venture.
More Articles By Elizabeth Hensley