The sustainable microcosm of Skool Beans in Iceland
9 July 2021 Fabiana Magrì

The sustainable microcosm of Skool Beans in Iceland Rest of the world

The sustainable microcosm of Skool Beans in Iceland

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The story of an Expat and her yellow food truck, on the edge of a small village, in the remote Icelandic province.

In the foreground the church with the red roof, behind the low houses of the village of Vik and in the background the black stacks of the lava beach

[March 2021]

 

Every morning by ten, whether it is sunny or windy, whether it rains or snows, Holly Keyser must reach Vík’s “mailbox”, wedged between the bank and the liquor store. In winter, at that time, it’s dawn. This explains why Holly often finds herself surrounded by people in pajamas.

Between piles of packages and envelopes, for scarce three hours, a lady sorts all the correspondence of the 400 souls who live in the southernmost village of Iceland. It is to this lady that Holly, forty-year-old English transplanted to the island, entrusts every day the shipment to Europe of the coffee blends and other artisanal products that come from her micro-roasting, a real café aboard a yellow school bus.

I don’t even remember how and when I came across Skool Beans‘ Instagram profile.

But from that moment on I started dreaming of going back to Iceland. Also to taste a bagel with homemade jam, sip the white hot chocolate with fennel flavor, caress the red fur of the cat Jeffrey and getting lost in the view of the Reynisdrangar cliffs, reaching out into the sea.

I caught up with Holly on Zoom, intrigued by the story of an Expat (her surname, Keyser, is not a patronymic like all Icelandic surnames) that decides to set up a food truck in a small village in the Icelandic province.

«Icelandic nature is too big for an ego to compete with it»

A glass of hot chocolate, with milk froth, with dark chocolate flakes and small toasted marshmallows

«I was born in England and lived in Australia for six years before arriving in Iceland. At one point, after a series of life-changing events, I realized that I couldn’t allow myself to live so far away from home».

But life, you know, rarely lets us decide.

During the little Odyssey to return to England from Australia, at the Singapore airport, Holly ran into some old friends. They were going to Iceland to work as guides on the glaciers of the Skaftafell National Park. And Holly, of course, followed them. Although, before then, she had never considered going there.

«I knew it existed but I couldn’t even place it exactly on the maps».

 

It was 2017. That year, in Iceland, summer seemed to never end.

 

«I couldn’t believe how the island could be so uninhabited and intact. I walked in shorts and T-shirt. I went a few times on the glacier, with friends. It was therapeutic. It helped me put things back into perspective. Icelandic nature is too big for an ego to compete with it. When you are here, you divest yourself of all those things you think might matter when you live in cities like Melbourne or London or Rome. Suddenly all you have to do is simply breathe».

«All of this came into my life at the perfect time».

Not that choosing to change her life scared her. For ten years, between her 20s and 30s, in England, she was a police officer specializing in interrogation, intelligence and counter-terrorism. «I saw my colleagues and they seemed empty to me, as if their souls had disappeared. At that point I decided to do something for myself, before moving on to a later life stage».

At 38, Holly was beginning to feel a little disoriented at the thought of not knowing what she wanted to do.

She took a career break to travel and raise money for the British air ambulance. Until she arrived in Australia, and stopped. In the six years in Melbourne she did a little bit of everything. She worked in cafes and restaurants, learning the secrets of the barista profession. In the hospitality sector. In marketing and interior design.
All these experiences found a synthesis in the Skool Beans project.

A man standing in the empty interior of a school bus, leaning over a table, surrounded by work tools.

«Countries that are new to the tourism market think they have to import things from elsewhere: international brands, shopping malls, large hotels. When, on the contrary !, people come here to live small and authentic experiences». In every corner of the island, Holly noticed, you could find hot dogs and pizza. But a healthy breakfast of granola and fruit? Impossible. And since she did not have the money to open a restaurant, she invested the savings in a food truck to offer healthy and creative cuisine, well-finished and respectful of the environment, not only for tourists. After some research, Holly chose to settle in Vík. «There is the most open and multicultural community I have ever lived in. 40% of the population is international. There are restaurants, a micro brewery, a school, a swimming pool. Mountains, glaciers, caves and the ocean are just a stone’s throw away». 

So Holly took over an old abandoned broken-down bus. «Every six months, my father, an extraordinary carpenter and craftsman, came to help me with the work. For him, renovating an old American bus with his daughter in Iceland was an adventure. It was for both of us».

The concept of Skool Beans is kindness. The message, from the moment you step on board the bus, is “nice to be nice”, the beauty of being kind. You can browse a copy of the The Happy Newspaper, the only newspaper in the world that reports only good news.

The drinks are flavored with flowers and spices. And it is the first restaurant in Iceland to use insects (powdered crickets). See the “strange things” menu item!

The wifi is free and the password is “have a great day”. There is a bookcrossing shelf. Anyone who buys a compostable cup, with a recyclable lid, with a hand-printed logo in vegan ink, has a coffee for free. The coffee is organic, the beans come from farmers who have a philosophy of sustainability, environmental awareness and ethical agriculture. The beans are roasted fresh every Tuesday in the kitchen of the local restaurant The Soup Company. «It is owned by a small family, with big dreams. We are in total harmony».

A cup of coffee of Skool Beans is the same price as the one at the gas station. «I don’t have big costs so I can afford to serve ethical products at ethical prices. And in Iceland, it’s not easy».

Furthermore, the school bus is powered by completely renewable energy, so that its environmental impact is zero.

 

The fame of Skool Beans is spreading across the island, and people are starting to arrive from afar. «A group drove five hours in the snow to come and drink my coffee. They did a series of social media stories, making several stops along the way». No wonder Holly has already received many offers, including opening trucks in franchising. «You can’t and I don’t want to. This is a constantly evolving project. I want to stay independent, and improvise». Even in collaborations.

The jams, for example, are homemade by her friend Aesa, who runs the Nordur Vik Hostel. «They are scoops of heaven. Aesa collects berries up in the mountains, the jams are completely organic. I pushed her to create a brand and now she also sells them in Reykjavík». 

When it snows, it’s easy to spot the yellow Skool Beans standing out against the white snow.

The posters and other souvenirs are also handcrafted by local artisans and artists. «People are going through a great “journey” right now. I feel lucky to have started the business at the very beginning of this pandemic».Holly’s next project is to organize a market of local producers and artisans, who still produce to keep themselves busy, but with no real economic return. «I try to do my best for the community».

The photos of the Skool Beans are taken from its Facebook Page.

The photo of Vik’s view is from Shalee and is taken from her blog Shaleewanders.

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