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Making the Grounds in Thousand Oaks : Business: Bruce Kosmala takes his coffee machines on the road to sell upwardly mobile brews.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Cappuccino Man flicks a switch and hot steam courses through finely ground coffee beans. With the touch of another button, a stainless steel pitcher of milk becomes frothy foam, and the Cappuccino Man hands off a hot drink to an eager customer.

Then he closes the back of his truck, slides behind the wheel and drives on to the next location in Thousand Oaks.

He’s the Good Humor man--for adults. He’s a turn-of-the century itinerant peddler--for hip suburbanites of the 1990s. And, to hundreds of customers, the Cappuccino Man is their personal caffeine pusher.

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Once ice cream trucks and hot dog vendors prowled the streets of Thousand Oaks. Now gourmet coffee has arrived--with carts set up on street corners, at shopping malls, even at Conejo Valley Days.

Bruce Kosmala, 38, of Camarillo, takes his coffee machines on the road--dropping by offices, car dealerships, even crime scenes to dispense his brew.

“You develop, like, a personal friendly relationship with the guy,” said Ramon Cano, a salesman at the Thousand Oaks auto mall and a regular customer of the mobile coffee maker.

Kosmala said his Seattle Coffee Co. truck allows him to move around more quickly than the typical trailer. That means he can serve more customers and make more money: The coffee he sells at two to three dollars a cup costs him about 41 cents to make, including the Styrofoam cup and gasoline for the truck.

Sometime, though, Kosmala can’t help but give the stuff away, as he does at crime scenes he finds out about by listening to a police radio scanner.

And despite the sky-high profit margins, the future commercial success of the mobile coffee business is by no means assured.

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“I pray that it takes off. It could very much bomb,” said Kosmala. In addition to coffee, he sells the $31,000 customized pickup trucks to would-be coffee entrepreneurs.

If the scene outside Jamie’s Hair Design on Thousand Oaks Boulevard is any indication, business is booming. As Kosmala’s truck pulls into the parking lot, hairdressers and customers abandon the conventional coffeepot inside and crowd around the hammered brass Italian espresso machine in the back of the truck. Kosmala greets them by name, and when they ask for the usual, he knows what they want.

“It’s good, hot, a nice jolt for the morning,” said Paul Vermont, an audio equipment technician sipping a sample.

Vermont said he is trying to reduce his coffee consumption.

“It’s bad for you. Caffeine’s bad for you,” Vermont said.

In addition to concerns about caffeine, coffee vendors must wrestle with the fear that the coffee fad is already on its last legs.

On that front, Kosmala is confident.

“I’m not going to get scared off,” he said. “There’s a difference between fads and trends. Yogurt stores were a fad. Gourmet coffee is a trend.”

Another negative is that while fancy coffee may be old news in Seattle, it is an unfamiliar taste to many in Thousand Oaks.

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“People are still getting used to it,” said Kosmala, whose been working the area since January. Before then, he had a mobile aircraft detailing business.

In Kosmala’s favor is his very mobility, combined with the grim reality of many jobs that keep workers tied to their desks.

Cano, the car salesman, said a trip across Thousand Oaks Boulevard to a coffee store could cost him $1,000 in lost commissions.

“I’m stuck here,” he said.

For the most office-bound, Kosmala slips indoors to take orders, then delivers to desks.

Another factor Kosmala sees as an advantage is the hot and sunny Southern California weather. Although the rainy Pacific Northwest spawned the trend, or fad, Kosmala said he sells more coffee on hot sunny days.

“Iced cappuccinos, iced mochas, everything is iced,” he said.

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