Road Less Traveled: Skool Beans and Its Magical Icelandic Setting

We follow Holly Keyser’s journey of opening a café inside an old school bus in the small town of Vík, Iceland.

BY VASILEIA FANARIOTI
SENIOR ONLINE CORRESPONDENT

Photos courtesy of Skool Beans and Joshua Schumacher

Enjoying a cup of coffee inside an old American school bus in Iceland isn’t an experience one gets to have every day. But for Holly Keyser, it’s her life. Holly is the owner of Skool Beans, Iceland’s first microroaster and tea lab coffee bus, located in Vík. We reached out to Holly to find out more about the journey of setting up her business and why she chose a small town along the southern coast of Iceland.

The interior of the bus: the floor is covered in mosaic style tiling, with the classic black rubber strip running through the middle. The ceiling is curved and painted white. At the end is a short wooden bar. On the left side is a row of two-person wooden tables with white chairs. On the right side runs a long skinny wooden bar seating area with the same shite chairs. The original bus windows line the top on both sides.
The old yellow school bus has been transformed into a cozy café.

From Glacier Guide to Café Owner

The Skool Beans bus began when Holly was offered a job as a glacier guide in Iceland by a friend. “When I arrived in Iceland in August 2017 I realized very quickly that outside of the capital city, Reykjavik, there were no little cafés that you could just settle into and enjoy,” she says. ”Vík is a town I would drive through to get to the city when I was a glacier guide. It’s a tiny town with the sea on one side and mountains on the other. I wanted to live in this tiny town next to the sea, but I wanted a little café to sit in while I was there.”

For Holly, Vík was the perfect fit for her business. Many people come to explore and appreciate the natural beauty of the region. Visitors can explore the nearby black sand beach of Reynisfjara and the Reynisdrangar sea stacks. Other activities in Vík include exploring the ice caves beneath Katla, ice climbing on Sólheimajökull glacier, and snowmobiling on Eyjafjallajökull glacier. But there was one thing missing: a café to sit in and relax.

“After a year of walking on a glacier I figured, if no one else is going to do it, I better stop moaning about it and do something about it myself! Vík has about 370 residents, but it gets over 2 million visitors a year, so I couldn’t have been the only one to feel this way. It turns out I wasn’t!”

Outside the bus, there are benches to sit on made from wood pallets. On the other side of the road looms a rocky cliff.
On a nice day, customers sit outside and enjoy the picturesque scenery.

Taking a Leap of Faith

The biggest challenge Holly faced was sourcing green beans that could be delivered to Iceland while also allowing small orders. “It was really hard to find a supplier of green beans that would deliver to Iceland, because so many countries don’t. Plus, I started so small, and in the pandemic. I wasn’t in a position financially to commit to massive orders of hundreds of kilos.”

She managed to find a supplier that supported her business from the beginning and that she still works with today. When it came to roasting, Holly used what she knew and jumped in with both feet—even though there were no microroasters close by. She started out small with a 250g air roaster and eventually upgraded to a 1kg roaster after launching a coffee card voucher that injected extra cash into her business.

“The 1-kilo roaster reduced my roasting time to a quarter of what it was,” she says. ”In busy seasons I have a very trusted team roast for me because I also work full time on the bus. When I have time to roast, I like to try unusual beans to cameo in the bus from time to time.”

Holly making a drink inside the bus, seen through the window. She wears a headband and khaki apron and has her hands placed on knobs on the espresso machine.
Holly had a 10-year career in the emergency services in the U.K., specializing in large-scale operation planning and counter-terrorism.

A Step Inside the Unique Skool Beans Bus

So what can one expect when visiting the Skool Beans bus? There are three options of specialty coffee to choose from, plus a creative menu of specialty hot chocolates including the Dragon’s Breath, a white hot chocolate with dragon fruit and cayenne pepper, topped with cream, edible flowers, and coconut flakes. 

Holly says the bus evokes a lot of nostalgia for American customers. It’s also fun for people who have never been inside an old school bus. ”It’s more than just the bus itself though,” Holly says. ”It’s the log fire, the mountain view, the strange concept of a bus, under a massive volcano, in Iceland.”

The front corner of the bus features a small metal wood-burning fireplace with a skinny chimney. Wood is piled neatly underneath. A black striped basket lies on the floor near it. Behind the fireplace is the orginal bus driver's seat and signage.
Skool Beans offers a free book exchange, so you can relax with a book by the log fire.

Holly believes that one of the most important aspects of starting a business is believing in yourself. Despite people telling her that the idea wouldn’t work, she continued to move forward and trusted her gut instinct, which ultimately led her to success. She advises aspiring entrepreneurs to always back themselves no matter what.

The Skool Beans team is currently in the process of building a roasting lab and says we can expect more exciting roasts and custom blends in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vasileia Fanarioti (she/her) is a senior online correspondent for Barista Magazine and a freelance copywriter and editor with a primary focus on the coffee niche. She has also been a volunteer copywriter for the I’M NOT A BARISTA NPO, providing content to help educate people about baristas and their work. You can follow her adventures at thewanderingbean.net.

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