12 October 2020
AlumnInspiration

When love for coffee and cycling comes together

Discover the stories behind UM alumni businesses, creative projects, special hobbies, and so on. Time to get inspired! Today we lift the curtain on Fixed Gear Coffee, a coffee shop brand run by Maastricht University alumni and lovers Brian Megens and Shivani Achrekar. They talk about good coffee, corona challenges and flavourful future plans.

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Brian and Shivani working in Maastricht.

Brian: ‘‘Before I started studying, I had a contract as a cyclist on a semi-professional level. However, in the year that I could prove that I was worth a spot in the WorldTour peloton, everything went wrong. I did not perform well and to top that off, the ‘doping bomb’ (when Lance Armstrong and many other professional cyclists confessed massive dope usage, red.) exploded. As a result, my team lost many of its sponsors. Eventually, I decided to stop professional cycling and focus on my studies.’’

‘‘In 2016, I stumbled across fixed gear crit racing, which are races of around 45 minutes on track bikes that have only one fixed gear and no brakes. Not long after, I travelled the world for races, which is also how I discovered specialty coffee. Coffee and cycling are a popular combination, as cyclists usually drink a lot of coffee because of its caffeine, but places that successfully mix both disciplines are very scarce, especially in the Netherlands. That is where I saw an opportunity for after my graduation...’’

From Maastricht to Mumbai... and back again

Shivani: ‘‘I grew up in Toronto, Canada, where the coffee culture has always been a bit further ahead than in the Netherlands. So, when I first moved to Maastricht for my studies in 2014, I was a bit disappointed. In 2017, I left Maastricht for a short while to work in Mumbai, where I became more fascinated with specialty coffee and started learning more about the industry. When I returned, Brian had already started looking for locations for Fixed Gear Coffee.  I became more and more involved in the project and eventually we decided that we would be partners in running the business.’’

‘‘At the bottom of the Cauberg –   a famous hill among cyclists located in Valkenburg, the Netherlands, and part of one of the busiest cycling routes in Northern Europe – we found the perfect location for our coffee bar. We opened our doors there in August 2018. I took over the kitchen and created (vegan) cake recipes inspired by my travels. All that time spent looking for good coffee has finally paid off!’’

Brian Megens © Tornanti.cc.

In 2016, Brian Megens graduated from the UM bachelor’s programme European Studies at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. He decided to continue his studies at the same faculty; he finished the master’s programme Media Culture in 2018. Together with Shivani, he is the owner of Fixed Gear Coffee now. Next to this, Brian works as a freelance photographer for several cycling brands, events, and more.

Move over milk and sugar

Brian: ‘‘With Fixed Gear Coffee, we aim at bringing the best of specialty coffee and cycling together. It is a place to enjoy good coffee and homemade cakes, while shopping cycling apparel from several top brands. Everyone should feel welcome – from professional cyclists and hobbyists to tourists and people who do not ride a bike at all.’’

Shivani: ‘‘Over the years, the Netherlands has developed a ‘quantity over quality’ coffee culture, wherein coffee is a dark bitter and often burnt liquid, which needs a lot of milk and sugar to be drinkable. At Fixed Gear Coffee, we want to change that perception of coffee. We do so by serving single origin coffees with diverse flavourful taste notes, supplied by top roasters from all over the world, from New York to Amsterdam. We focus on quality, but also on working with partners who have a transparent production process and making sure that coffee farmers are paid a fair price.’’ 

Hard times, new opportunities

Brian: ‘‘We started Fixed Gear Coffee with a relatively small budget and without any bank loans, bootstrapping and buying almost everything second hand with the help of friends and family. Luckily, our shop in Valkenburg turned out to be a success and after a while, we decided to start another location in Maastricht.’’

‘‘In March 2020, when the corona crisis hit the Netherlands, our new store had just opened. At that time, we had almost not buffer left as we had also just invested in new stock materials and we were preparing for the new racing season, so we quickly had to change our sales methods.’’

Shivani: ‘‘Luckily, we also have a webshop, so we managed to keep our sales going across the Benelux area, even offering free delivery in Maastricht. After the first weeks, we could open our shop in Maastricht again for take-away coffee; as of 1 June 2020, both locations have been open again. We are very happy, because since then, business is going better than ever.’’

Shivani Achrekar.

Shivani Achrekar graduated from the UM master’s programme Public Policy and Human Development at UNU-MERIT in 2015. From 2015 to 2017, she took on the position of Programme Coordinator at UNU-MERIT, working for the project ‘The Community of Learning for Africa’, the course ‘Evidence-based Policy Research Methods for mid-career professionals’, as well as the GPAC2 programme, which is a blended learning PhD programme at UNU-MERIT.

In 2017, Shivani decided to work with an umbrella NGO in India for a few months, where she again was working on education and blended learning projects for schools in low-income communities. Now, she is the owner of Fixed Gear Coffee, together with Brian.

Barista competitions and bike races

Brian: ‘‘Although the past few months have been a tough period for us, we are proud that the foundation of our business grew stronger – more people know about our products, services and the webshop now. We also have more followers on social media.’’

Shivani: ‘‘During this period, we were also able to think about our next steps. We want to grow sustainably, keep collaborating with other cycling brands and roasters, take on new bike racing projects, and strengthen the position of our community brand ‘Coffee Before Cycling’. Maybe we even might throw ourselves in some barista competitions with our amazing roasters in the future. And of course, we hope to learn and to ride a lot in the future. Running a business together as a couple is sometimes challenging. However, being able to combine our passions with our work also makes it fun!’’

A few days after the publication of this article, the Dutch government announced new measures regarding COVID-19. You can still shop or grab a take-away coffee at Fixed Gear Coffee. The webshop is also open.

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Fixed Gear Coffee, location Maastricht.

 

Text: Milou Schreuders
Photography: Fixed Gear Coffee