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Whatever Floats Your Boat--How About a Latte and a Hotdog?

July 28, 2002|MELANTHIA MITCHELL | ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

SEATTLE — In this city of java junkies and boat enthusiasts, it was only a matter of time before someone found a way to float lattes to the masses.

Dudley Bennett and his wife, Robby, set sail on the Hibernia Espresso almost every summer weekend -- weeknights if the weather's nice -- with a bounty of hotdogs, bratwurst, chips and, of course, coffee.

"It's been going good," Dudley Bennett says during a Friday evening on Seattle's Lake Union. "The response has been wonderful."

And who's to complain, especially in this city, about the smell of fresh cappuccino wafting across the water?

Bennett says he'd always wanted a floating barbecue business. He first thought that the plan would work 10 years ago, when he remembers seeing a boat called Bob's Espresso.

In 1999, he and his wife found a steel tugboat already equipped with a vendor-style espresso machine. They've spent about $25,000 for the boat, a smoker for hot dogs, a large backyard grill and a freezer. Then they got the necessary approval from the health department.

"It's a great way to spend the day," Robby Bennett says with a sweeping gesture of the lake and downtown Seattle skyline. "We get to hang out together doing what we like."

This is a second job for the couple, who both work on pleasure boats. The Hibernia stays docked most of the week, but on weekends, they're out about eight hours each day, when the lake is more active with boaters.

Memorial Day weekend was their first official day of business, but they haven't really made money yet.

"Right now, we're just putting ourselves out there and getting everyone used to us," Robby Bennett says after about 30 minutes on the water without any orders.

Dudley Bennett allows the Hibernia to drift quietly on the lake as speedboats whiz by and passing kayakers wave hello.

"You kind of get an idea when they want something when they come beelining right for you," Dudley Bennett says.

He steers toward the lake's eastern side and a group of houseboats -- maybe there's business there.

The little green, red and white boat nears the docks, drawing curious glances from people in their homes.

"Oh my God, look at that!" a woman says after reading the sign at the boat's stern advertising lattes and hotdogs.

"Only in Seattle," another woman says while smiling and shaking her head.

People have plenty of suggestions -- put up a bigger sign, offer catering services. The most popular one: "You should add beer to the menu!"

Both have agreed that beer won't be added to the drinks list. But they have added "Frosty Paws," much to the pleasure of their dog, Ziggy, who also goes out on the lake. The liver-flavored ice cream provides other dog owners with a cool snack for their parched pooches.

They continue along the boat docks, chatting with people and asking everyone to look for them over the weekend.

"This is a great idea!" says Meredith Field, who doesn't order any coffee but makes a request for an early morning coffee delivery to surprise her dad. "Wait until August; you will be the most popular boat on the lake."

With a promise to return in the morning, Dudley Bennett heads back toward the opposite side of the lake.

It seems the day is a bust, but then a speedboat jetties up, its owner, Tim Gorman, curious to see what the Hibernia has to offer.

"I first saw the color, then I saw the sign and thought, 'Yah hooey!' " Gorman says as he begins to place his $40 order.

No sooner does Gorman leave than kayaker Kathy Herrmann paddles up. "I'm surprised that it took this long for someone to come up with the idea," she says.

Herrmann knows a bit about the coffee business: She works for Starbucks.

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