If you follow us on social media you’ll know that we don’t ever do #throwbackthursday but with all that’s been going on over the last few weeks we were feeling quite reminiscent and wanted to show you all (who don’t already know) why we are so thankful to you for buying our Iced Coffee.
These photos look like two random snaps of the mini Hill’s – they don’t really mean much to you. They aren’t smiling for the camera, showing off a new top, climbing a big rock, heck there isn’t even a fantastic view in the background. The first was taken on 22nd February 2011, and the second was taken on 31st August 2018.
The first one was the day we handed our keys of our family home back to the bank and moved into my mum’s house. The night before was spent with the help of friends, loading all of our stuff (except for a few suitcases) into a local church which was up for sale – so we had free storage. We had no money, no jobs, and now no home. There were two things we did have though…these amazing little humans, aged 4 and 3, who had no idea what was going on. We used the last of our change to buy them a Happy Meal, we didn’t want them to feel anything of what we were feeling. We made the whole move to my mums house seem like an exciting adventure even though for us the reason for it was crushing.
On New Year’s Day in 2014 we realised we were about to finally be free of all the crap we had been through, our kids were now 7 and 6. Andy asked me what I was going to do differently this year. I had no clue, we were renting a home we loved, I was working, the reset button had been hit but we didn’t want to trundle down the same path as before. We got to discussing random plans that we’d mentioned on and off during the tough times – you know all of those pie in the sky dreams you talk about when you need to escape the crap you’re in. It wasn’t until April that I started thinking about going to college but by September Andy & I were both enrolled in a Foundation Degree in Hospitality, Tourism & Events at SERC Bangor. We had a plan but it wasn’t fine-tuned - this was how we would gain the knowledge we needed to put it into place.
We loved college (most of the time – learning is hard), and we both came out of it with some results that we never thought we were capable of. We loved it even more because we were allowed to set up our business as the placement section of the course. We set to work buying the horse trailer and sourcing all the stuff we would need to make it work as a coffee trailer while having as little effect on our gorgeous planet as possible. Friends helped us and even bought stuff for us, every step of the way we have had friends & family helping us out. We had our very first event with the converted horse trailer in April 2016 (that’s a whole other story!) and since then we have served coffee all over NI at all sorts of events, to all sorts of fantastic people. Along the way we spotted a need for a cold coffee that could be served easily on the go, that’s when we started developing our Iced Coffee. After a great response we decided to bottle the stuff. Then along came some independent shops, followed by Comber SuperValu, followed by other SuperValus and a load of Centras as demand grew.
The second pic was taken on the day we got the keys for our unit which means we can now bottle Iced Coffee in a proper production unit that’s ours! The kids are now 11 and very nearly 10. They know the story of why they had to sleep on two mattresses on the floor in Granny Carol’s house. They understand why we, as adults, went to college. They understand that we were homeless with no jobs and now we are so busy with our Iced Coffee that we have orders which justify a unit to make it in. They get it and are so happy, almost as happy as we are!! We opened the door for the first time, just us four, on Friday and we got out Friday sweets and crisps, we even drank some juice. We planned the room, played and danced, we discussed dreams and thought up silly, pie in the sky ideas – who knows which ones will become a reality? It’s good to dream and boy is it frikkin’ awesome to make a product, have people like it, have people buy it, and be able to support our little family from it.
Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for helping us get from that first pic to the second – you will never truly know how grateful we are. Our dreams are full of repaying your kindness back out into the world.
One of the excellent people to have come from our wee country is CS Lewis and I’ve been thinking on something he said:
"You play the hand you're dealt. I think the game's worthwhile."
We, ourselves, have been through some crap and when people hear details of our story some react with shocked faces and the words “how did you cope”. Well, CS Lewis knows! We played the hand we were dealt, and it has most definitely been worthwhile!
Following the worst year of our lives Andy hurt his back. He spent the week running up to his 30th birthday on the sofa, unable to move – like I had to actually proper tidy because the doctor had to make a house call. As he was recovering he decided he couldn’t put up with recurring back problems all his life and started to do something about it. He dusted down his old mountain bike and went out with some mates to some local trails. As his fitness returned his core strengthened and his back had some proper protection. His back hasn’t written him off like that since.
He was still biking in 2015 (he still is) when the Vitus First Tracks Enduro Cup was launched, so he entered the whole series. We went down as a family to support him on the race days and found an amazing community of people who are…well…happy, inclusive, funny, some great on their bikes, some waaaay better than me on their bikes. We loved it so much that when we launched our coffee trailer in 2016 one of our first calls was to Catherine O’Brien to see if we could bring the coffee. Finally, at the last race of the second season we got the call to ask if we could stand in for the usual coffee guy because he couldn’t do it. We jumped at the chance. Season 3 came and we were asked to do each round of the series, we actually became race sponsors too. We’re in the middle of season 4 – about to go to Rostrevor and serve coffee all weekend at round 3, and as much as we know it’s a weekend of hard work we are so excited to get there, open the door and have the usual banter with all the mountain bikers and their families. Our kids will spend the weekend climbing in trees, playing with new friends, chatting to bikers, watching different stages of the race and cheering people on who they don’t even know. How awesome!?!
If you’re curious, why not come along and watch. If you mountain bike, why not bite the bullet and just enter – there’s a sports category which is easier, it’ll break you in. If you need to get you and your kids outdoors more come along and spend your weekend in the mountains with the sunshine and cheer on people you don’t know – it’ll make them feel great and you’ll love it too.
Our wee country is excellent! I’m sure you agree, the outdoors, full of forests, beaches, lakes, mountains (and there’s a lot) are gorgeous, and there are a lot of fantastic people doing some amazing things. That’s not to say we’re perfect, but, especially these days, the everyday average joes are coming pretty darn close! Good times come and go but we’re great at taking care and supporting each other – if you haven’t found this yet but mountain biking isn’t your cup of tea, then go out and get involved in a group! There are plenty right on your doorstep, whether it’s sports, arts, kids clubs, clubs for older folks, and they are full of people who can have a laugh and a chat while they do their thang – whatever it might be, try them all if you have to, but find yourself a place with real people, who knows maybe these people can help you play the hand you’re dealt and make this game worthwhile.
Adventures can be gruelling and rewarding at the same time! This was us last year…physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted but at the same time we were super proud of what we had done. On 29th March 2017 we released our very own bottled Iced Coffee range to the world – well ok, to North Down, but still to us that was our world. We were careful about the ingredients, everything was sourced locally, and we were so chuffed to be able to tell people the milk is from cows on our fantastic little island. The growing and roasting of the coffee bean all takes place in this little village in Indonesia which gives 100 families an income as well as investment in their local area in taking care of the habitat there.
In a blind taste test before the launch we beat the market leader 100%, so we were pretty confident in our product, but it’s always scary putting something that you made and designed out into the world. We thought it would be something that would be shared by our friends and we would get the odd small order here and there in between selling it at events from our horse trailer. Which did happen, but then we got into a few local stores – we were on top of the world! We couldn’t believe it. We were floating along quite nicely, happy little Iced Coffee folk, when the Manager from Comber SuperValu walked up to Andy in Comber Farmers Market and said he would love to get our Iced Coffee in to that store. When Andy told me, I thought either he or Martin (SuperValu Comber Manager) was joking. It’s been on the shelves there for 6 months now and we’re in talks for other exciting stuff.
This self-employed thing can be full of highs and lows, often in quick succession, but that’s all part of the adventure. Being able to investigate our creativity, indulge our passions, pick our kids up from school, meet new people, discover new places, dream dreams together…this is why we do it. The paperwork, the vulnerability, the late nights, that’s all part of it too. Who ever enjoyed reading an adventure book that didn’t have a few twists and turns? I read recently that we shouldn’t live the same year for 75 years and call it a life, well you know what, if you enjoy what you do and have a flipping fantastic year, then why not?! I’ve certainly enjoyed our year, it’s been so erratic I wouldn’t be able to repeat it but I’m certainly going to enjoy whatever is next in our adventure and I hope you enjoy yours! Here’s to the adventure, wherever it may take you!
With it being Valentine’s day tomorrow we thought we’d give you a wee something to read while you’re chomping on your pancakes. So, grab a cuppa and put your feet up, c’mere and let me tell you a true story about a girl who liked a boy…ok, so yea it’s me Cat, it’s a story about me liking a boy. Imagine it is way back then at the turn of the Century, I had not long turned 17 and there was this cute boy who went to my youth group. The only problem was, I was a proper responsible little 17 year old and I had 2 part time jobs while studying for my A-Levels, but this one job had a weekly shift on Wednesday night, the same night as youth group. I really liked this dude, he was funny but gave off a mysterious vibe, he was gorgeous and (BONUS) he was in a band (like, HOW COOL!?!). At this point in the story a friend and a family member couldn’t keep their big mouths shut and blabbed some secrets (thanks Rosie & Sparky), so I kind of knew that he knew that I liked him. CRINGE! But it turned out he might actually like me back. So, I did what any responsible 17 year old girl would do. I walked into my boss in Comber SuperValu (yep) and I handed in my notice…no more working on a Wednesday evening, I was away to flirt with the cute boy!! It was totally worth it though, we ended up dating, YAY! Now 17 ½ years later we are married with two kids and still looking forward to whatever our adventure brings us next.
O yea, that shop I quit from to go and flirt with Andy…who would have thought we’d be walking back in there together to stock the shelves with our Iced Coffee 17 years later? There you go, there’s proof on this Valentine’s Day eve…whatever or whoever it is that you want to put yourself out there for, just go for it…you never know what adventures you might end up having.
Hill’s Mixtape – What does it all mean, Basil?!
To understand Hill’s Mixtape you have to know a little bit about us, if you don’t read to the end you still won’t get it so you better wake up and pay attention (ok…who sang that as they were reading?).
As a family we love the outdoors – hey it’s beautiful, you get all muddy (let’s face it, we live in NI where rain, therefore mud, is never far away), and it’s free! Northern Ireland is bursting with amazing outdoor experiences just waiting to be had, life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. All four of us appreciate the outdoors but specifically Andy loves the mtb trails and I adore the scenery, Brandon is much the same as Andy, he loves adventuring off the path in a forest, and Faith is like me except she absolutely loves getting stuck into the mud, dirt, sand, and sea (I suppose that’s me too but I’m not supposed to admit to that when I’m trying to adult).
We love coffee! A few (lying – it was totally over 10) years ago we got a coffee filter machine and spent a few weeks only drinking filter coffee, then one day we had a drink of instant coffee and thought we had mortally offended a family member – why would they give us this muck to drink?! That’s when we realised there was no going back to instant, we had gotten used to the real thing and were hooked. Eventually, we just had to buy a one group coffee machine so that I could make proper speciality coffees at home. A coffee shop had always been one of those things I thought would be a nice idea but as our love for coffee grew and the direction of our lives was uncertain (more on that one on a later date) we ran forward with determination to do something with our ideas, and ideas are bulletproof.
The beginning of motherhood can be a strange time. It’s a muddle of being off work, lacking in sleep, trying to figure out what this new little human is after, all the while trying to make it look like you totally know what you’re doing. I stumbled across a way that I could de-stress but stay in the house while my babies were napping…I baked. I started with cookies because that’s what we like, I wasn’t happy with the recipe so I tweaked it, then I tweaked it some more until now 8 years later I am finally happy with the result. I would tell you they are the best cookies around but I’ve tailored them to my taste so…yea, I’m not always right but people seem to agree with me most times when it comes to the cookies.
Music has always been a part of our lives, for every adventure we go on there’s a soundtrack. We play records in the kitchen when we’re cooking, listen to a C.D. in the car on a journey, we stream playlists while we all get ready to go out, the kids listen to Faith’s C.D. player while they tidy their rooms – it really does help. Andy used to be in a band in his younger days, and I’m pretty sure there is a guitar in every room except for the bathroom. So it was inevitable that a music reference would be involved in the identity of our business.
A mix tape, for anyone who remembers the olden days (you’re probably over 25), is a tape that you would record all your favourite songs onto so you could take it anywhere – a friend’s house party, a road trip, or just for you in your Walkman. That’s what Hill’s Mixtape is, for now at least, a whole load of the stuff we love crammed into something that we can pull anywhere. The way I see it, if you’re going to build a time mach…ahem, I mean if you’re going to build a coffee shop into a trailer why not do it with some style? So we serve coffees, teas and sweet treats wherever we are needed, from our 45 year old converted horse trailer, in the amazing outdoors of Northern Ireland.
There’s more to come because there are more parts of our mixtape that we would love to share with you guys but for that, we’re gonna need a bigger boat, so you’ll have to just keep an eye out and see what we do next.
Life is an adventure and you were made to live it.
I hear, and have used, many excuses as to why people can’t do this or can’t do that and there’s usually a wee “that’s just the way I am” thrown in. This was always part of my vocabulary but not anymore more! I’ve experienced the actual impossible happen (more on that in a minute), so then why can’t what we think is impossible be made possible? The limits we place on ourselves are put there by us and how we perceive ourselves, who says you can’t overcome them? Whether it’s that jump you’re too scared to try, a distance or a time you think you’ll never achieve, a position on the field you think you’ll never be any good at, or even away from sports if you just feel like you’re not good at something (money, relationships, eating right, the list can go on and on), I’ve come to realise the only person who believes you can’t improve or change is yourself. Why let the “that’s just the way I am” mentality put limits on how we live the adventure?
I went for a walk today with my headphones in and every now and again I realised I was smiling. I could hear violins breaking into a song in a way I have never before! You see, all of my life I don’t remember ever hearing out of my right ear. I had 11 ear operations in 21 years, and then 6 years ago I said no to invasive surgery and that was it, I was discharged with no hearing in my right ear. It was just the way I was, I’m used to picking my seat carefully in a cafe, I walk on the right of friends when out and about, I sit to the right of my hubster when we’re on the sofa chilling, all so that I can hear what’s going on. If someone was ever trying to get my attention, and I eventually realised, I always said “sorry and I can’t hear out of my right ear if you need me you need to holler”, that phrase just rolled off my tongue because it was so normal to say, it’s just the way I am. Suddenly, last Thursday, I noticed I could hear, like properly! The impossible was suddenly happening, and still is, apparently that’s not just the way I am!!
My point is, if my actual impossible thing became possible then why can’t the other things, that we let seem impossible because that’s just the way we are, become possible too! Push boundaries, work hard, break moulds, be who you want to be not who you think you should be, and for goodness sake live the adventure that you were made for!!
I’ve heard recently that if you do what you love everything else will follow. It’s not true. You can do what you love until you’re blue in the face but if you don’t add one fundamental ingredient into the mix then you’ll never get anywhere. Hard work. That’s what it takes if you want to make a success of anything. Andy stumbled across a speech by Ashton Kutcher recently and some of the stuff he said really resonated with what we have learned in our pursuit of establishing Hill’s Mixtape. He said “opportunity looks a lot like hard work”, for us this is so true, we have grafted and grafted along with some friends and family – without hard work we would never have the opportunity to launch our own business. The other thing he said was about living a life that everyone else expects because that what everyone does, Ashton (or Chris apparently) said we should go out and “build a life, don’t live one”. Well we certainly have built something, we have built our future. The Hill’s Mixtape horse trailer was converted and a coffee trailer built in our driveway during March and April of this year, we worked into the wee hours and got up early to make sure it was finished. We didn’t stop there, we sent email after email and researched different events we could try to be at and serve coffee. We agonised over our coffee and tea to ensure we got the right ones, we even got you guys to help by filling out a survey to show us what people actually want from a hot drinks vendor. We made cookie after cookie and brownie after brownie until we got it right, we asked friends to taste test them and give us critical feedback so that we could get it right. Now, 1 month after our first event we are booked up every single weekend from now until August (August is filling up pretty quick too though), with more bookings in the diary right up until December! Just as we were thinking we would finally take a sneaky break this weekend we got an email from Belfast City Council to say that we have been accepted and a table is available to sell our cookies at their Saturday market in the very gorgeous St George’s Market. This means we have a table selling cookies, shortbread and a weekly feature biscuit in Belfast while the trailer is off gallivanting round our beautiful country selling our whole repertoire of coffees, teas, and sweet treats. This has far exceeded our expectations and is immeasurably more than we ever imagined would happen in our first month. Doing what you love, hard work and a little help from your friends is how you make it! Do what you love, just be sure to mix in some hard work and don’t be afraid to ask people for help.
We are going to update all our upcoming dates for the Hill’s Mixtape Coffee Trailer on our front page but in the meantime come and see us on Saturday (yes this Saturday!!), 21st May in St George’s Market and purchase a delicious cookie. Can we also ask that if you’ve filled in a survey or shared a post or retweeted something that you let us know so that we can shake your hand and say thanks in person? We look forward to having a chat with you!
What do you do when you reach the top of your mountain?
People who climb actual mountains get to the top, take in the view, eat something, take some pictures, they'd probably attend to their feet for a while and chat to other hikers about the journey they had and how it's worth it now they're all up here. But then what?? They just go back down the mountain. I don't want to go back down, it took me two bloomin' years getting up it why would I want to go back down, or let any of my wee team go back down?! I, quite simply, wouldn't. Still though, that leaves me with my question unanswered. Maybe, for now though, I can enjoy the view for a while, I just need to remember to get up and go when it view gets familiar. There's more ahead for me, for #teamHill and I can't wait to find out what it is!
This is the end of a something I wrote 2 years ago. I wrote this after a hike up a metaphorical mountain. It was after a really crap time in our lives, I’ll tell that story but not now, it’s for another day. I wrote this before I knew I was going to college, before Andy and I sat down to discuss the possibility of our own business (something we’d wanted to do for years), and before we knew what the whole business would look like. I was tired and where we had gotten to was good, heck it was awesome, but I knew then that there was so much more.
So now I look around me there are so many tangible pieces of our business that I can’t contain my excitement, my gratitude, and my tiredness – starting your own business and doing it all yourselves is HARD WORK! We completed first event last night and we really nearly didn't make it – hard work, perseverance, and good friends are the reasons why we did make it! I know we are at the start and only more hard work and time will tell us whether or not our business is going to be a success, but nonetheless I am so excited for what’s ahead. I am excited to serve some awesome coffee, tea, cold drinks, and sweet treats that have all been carefully selected for very specific reasons, which include looking after the people who make them and the places they come from (for the likes of the stuff we can’t grow in NI), as well as supporting NI in all aspects and keeping it looking outstanding along the way.
I was excited 2 years ago to see what was ahead and I'm excited now for the very same reason – what a way to live life?!
So hopefully you all know by now that we love the outdoors, which is why we are excited to share two bits of info with you all. Firstly, we now have an official policy (we’ve never had one of those before!) on our takeaway cups. You might be wondering how that is exciting?!? Well actually it is! If you bring your empty take away cup back to us we will give you an extra stamp on your loyalty card…getting you one step closer to a free hot drink, now isn’t that exciting? Plus it means we can make sure the cups are recycled therefore protecting our environment and the look of the beautiful outdoors that Northern Ireland has to offer. For anyone who’s wondering, if you find one of our cups on the ground and it wasn’t yours we will totally give you another stamp on your loyalty card if you bring that one back to us as well! Yay for coffee and recycling!!
Secondly, and just as exciting, we can also tell you about our first event! We will be debuting in Warrenpoint alongside the awesome TVR Open Series. Team Vision Racing is a road cycling club who have set up a road cycling time trial event. They run one a month from April to August with a Night of Champions happening in August. We will be at each event, the first one is, da da da daaaaa, 13th April! If you’re a road cyclist and you’re interested in taking part then go check out their Facebook page. www.facebook.com/Tvr-open-series
If you’re not a road cyclist but you’re dying to see our finished trailer, sample our coffee, and taste our treats then keep your eye on our social media where we’ll let you know about a taster event we are going to put on soon. Also remember to keep an eye out for the Ards & North Down Council events we’ll be doing for the Year of Food & Drink NI (hopefully we should be allowed to announce those dates soon).
The Mixtape adventure has really started to grow legs over the past month...maybe we should say wheels not legs? You see, we actually purchased our horse trailer and have started converting it into our coffee trailer already. As if that wasn't exciting enough, on the very same day we went to pick up the trailer and bring it home we got confirmation of bookings at five events Ards & North Down Borough Council are putting on along the Peninsula between April and June. We'll post specific details about these as soon as we're allowed, but if you love food you'll love what's planned! It's all a part of the NI year of food. If you didn't already realise NI produces some amazing food and over the last few years many different high quality, artisan, Northern Ireland producers have emerged. The powers that be have decided 2016 is the year we should celebrate this awesomeness. We think they are bang on! We love Northern Ireland and are ecstatic that we get to be involved in celebrating part of it's awesomeness! So get out there and enjoy some food, hopefully we'll see you along the way!