Shug’s blends beans, music and charity

Mercedes Murietta is the owner of Shug’s Coffee Cart, which raises money for public school performing and visual arts programs.

Music, coffee and charity: These are the ingredients that make Shug’s Coffee Cart so successful.

Mercedes Murietta started Shug’s Coffee Cart in May 2017. Since then, she’s not only made about $60,000 in sales, but she’s also given $3,500 back to local schools – including Mohave Elementary School, where she taught and was an orchestra director.

The money raised helps support public school performing and visual arts programs.

Since leaving Mohave Elementary School, Murietta now she divides her time giving private lessons — which she’s been doing for 10 years — and serving a mean cup of joe at school fundraisers and other special events, including weddings.

The idea for a mobile coffee cart came to Murietta after she decided against renewing her contract for the 2017 school year.

Private lessons were picking up, and though she didn’t have the bandwidth to take on two full-time jobs, she needed something else on the side to keep her busy, particularly in the mornings before her afternoon lessons.

“I had my mornings free, and it was great for awhile, but anybody who knows me knows that I cannot sit still and do nothing,” she said with a laugh. “It’s impossible.”

A small business owner Murietta knew then approached her with the coffee cart concept, and having been a barista in the past with dreams of owning her own coffee shop, Murietta was quick to pursue it.

Murietta and her husband, Neil Bunker, immediately began working together to build the cart.

The cart is comprised of a refurbished espresso machine and eco-friendly products, including coffee cups and lids.

“We always buy refurbished stuff because it’s cheaper, but it’s also eco-friendly,” Murietta said. “[Being] eco-friendly, that is something that we try to strive to do because when you’re mobile, you have to use paper and plastic all the time. We just try to be as conscious as we can with water.”

They also recently switched over to environmentally friendly lids with a sip hole, so they avoid using plastic straws.

“All these little details, we try to make sure it’s very efficient,” she said.

Murietta and Bunker purchased the refurbished espresso machine from their coffee roaster, Phoenix-based Xanadu Coffee Roasters.

Shug’s coffee and espresso beans are also provided by Espressions Coffee Roastery.

“It was really important to me to use a local person when I opened up because I’m a local business,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense for me to order my beans outside when there’s so many good roasters in Phoenix.”

Two months and $6,000 later, the 500-pound cart was complete – but Murietta didn’t have a name for it.

That is, until her long-time friend suggested she use “Shug’s.”

“[Shug’s] is my nickname my friend calls me,” Murietta said.

The Shug’s logo also includes a record, which is meant to represent both Murietta and Bunker’s love of music.

Bunker is a musician and plays the guitar; and Murietta, in addition to being a music teacher, played the viola in her school orchestra when she was 10 years old.

Plus, the record supports the mission of Shug’s: to give back to public schools and help support their music programs.

Murietta gives back in two ways: She provides her services for teacher appreciation events at a discounted, flat rate, and she works fundraisers.

Typically, to book Shug’s for events, one would need to pay a $250 booking fee, pay a per-person rate and pay for extended serving hours.

But for teacher appreciation events, Murietta charges a flat rate of $200 for three hours of service and up to 100 drinks for staff and teachers.

“I’m lenient on the limit of people because I just want to be able to give money back,” she said.

For fundraisers, once Murietta reaches a minimum of $200 in sales, she donates 30 percent of proceeds back to the school.

Schools Shug’s has supported so far include Mohave Elementary, Saguaro High, Yavapai Elementary, Navajo Elementary, BASIS Scottsdale and Hohokam Elementary.

In addition to teacher appreciation events, Shug’s can be booked for orchestra, band and choir concerts; talent shows, sporting events, grad nights, marching band expos, community appreciation events, end-of-the-year celebrations, “welcome back teachers” celebrations and career fairs.

As far as private events go, Shug’s can be booked for weddings, corporate events, birthday parties, graduation parties, retirement parties, employee appreciation events, nurse appreciation events and more.

Schools and fundraisers make up 70 percent of Murietta’s business, and weddings and other special events 30 percent.

“It’s great to make money on wedding gigs, but the point of it — and what makes me feel good about it — is when we get to [give back],” she said.

The busiest time of the year is November and December and April and May because those months coincide with the end of the semester, and that’s when most school festivals and events take place.

This past month has been one of Murietta’s busiest months, with Chaparral High School’s Grad Night on the 30th the last event she has planned for May.

“I didn’t think it was going to be as busy as it is,” she said. “We’ve had like 15 events in May.”

Murietta attributes Shug’s success to the help and support she’s received from the community.

For starters, full-service creative agency located in Uptown Phoenix, LaneTerralever, created the Shug’s logo and built its website within two months, pro bono.

“I cried when they told me they’ll do it,” Murietta said. “Anybody can build a website, but [you need] good SEO so people can find you. … I get so many requests through email and then occasionally Instagram and Facebook, too, but a lot through email.”

Murietta is also grateful to the schools and SUSD Governing Board Member Patty Beckman, particularly, for spreading the word about Shug’s.

For example, this month, Beckman asked Murietta to serve at a few of the SUSD schools as a ‘thank you’ for teachers and staff.

“[Beckman] is so supportive and so enthusiastic about the idea, and she has this plan to use me as a morale booster for some of the campuses that really need it right now, specifically in Scottsdale, because of the changes that’s been going on there lately,” she said. “She appreciates it, and she knows I’m good at what I do.”

Looking ahead, Murietta hopes to either increase the size of the cart to serve more people at bigger events, like festivals, or open a small café, where they can host evening fundraisers.

“I have so many ideas that I just don’t know where to start, really,” she said. “We’re in this situation where what we’re doing right now is getting easy, we know the flow. ... I have to make a decision before November because that’s when we get super busy again.”

Murietta would also like to host more demonstrations for students at local schools.

Previously, a special education teacher at South Mountain High School reached out to Murietta via Instagram, asking her to visit the school with the cart because one of his students wanted to be a barista.

Free of charge, Murietta plugged in the cart at South Mountain High School’s courtyard, showed them how the coffee cart works and served everyone hot chocolate.

“I let them put the sprinkles on top and write their name on the cup. They had the time of their life,” she said. “It was such a joy, and I thought that would be a really cool thing to offer for schools, like career day.”

For Shug’s schedule, visit streetfoodfinder.com/shugscoffee. For more information and/or to reserve the coffee cart, visit shugscoffee.com.