When he launched “Caffeine & Carburetors” four years ago, New Canaan resident Doug Zumbach thought of the Sunday gathering as a good way to bring people together for a hobby that lends itself to just that: in-person meetups.
The owner of an eponymous, gourmet coffee shop at the corner of Pine and Grove Streets, Zumbach recalls that the first gathering drew 50 classic cars with the vehicles’ attendant enthusiasts.
In an essential way—and one which Zumbach himself works hard to preserve—his original vision hasn’t changed a bit.
“People come from all over just to look and talk cars—and that is the basis of the hobby,” Zumbach said.
“It’s what drives the hobby: wanting to see other cars, learn about cars, meet other owners,” he added. “There is a deep, deep camaraderie in this hobby. It’s not always about owning. I have seen owners of million-dollar cars walk up to a much less expensive car and relate to it, because that was the first car they owned and the memories come back. It’s a fascinating hobby.”
That fascination has officially outgrown Pine Street.
The final, November “Caffeine & Carburetors” gathering last year drew 400 cars, with enthusiasts coming to the grassroots gathering from as far away as Maine, New Hampshire and Southern New Jersey, Zumbach said.
The mailing list for “Caffeine & Carburetors” has swelled to 2,000, and it’s now held on six Sundays between May and November (skipping July and August).
Starting this season—which kicks off on Sunday, April 6—when Pine Street (between Grove and Park) gets about three-quarters full, the overflow classic cars will be directed to Elm Street. There, the vehicles will start filling up Elm from the top (Starbucks) down (toward Main).
That traffic flow will be eased with the assistance of four or five New Canaan police officers and 14 volunteers. Zumbach himself went to the first selectman and town bodies, police department and chamber of commerce for feedback and support as the idea for the downtown expansion materialized.
To Zumbach, the reconfigured, expanded location is an opportunity to bring 2,000 people to New Canaan at a time when downtown, and the many shops there, are normally quiet: 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning (the event runs 8 to 11:30 a.m.).
“I proposed it to the town and the town has wholeheartedly embraced it because of the potential for so many customers,” Zumbach said.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tucker Murphy said she’s hopeful that New Canaan merchants can get creative and capitalize on the presence of prospective customers.
“I would hope that our merchants can think out of the box of ways that they can participate or take advantage of this,” Murphy said. “The people who attend this [Caffeine & Carburetors] are people that our merchants would want. Several storeowners have said to me, ‘I want to do this’ or ‘I want to do that,’ and that’s the kind of thinking I like.”
One of those is Heidi Burrows, owner of New Canaan Olive Oil on Elm Street, who is developing a campaign specifically for the six days of Caffeine & Carburetors, called “Time for an Oil Change.”
She hopes to do some business and create awareness of her specialty shop during a day and time when it isn’t normally open.
“I think the play on the word ‘oil’ will get some attention,” Burrows told NewCanaanite.com. “I don’t think car lovers would necessarily walk into an oil store, but if we use the word ‘oil’ to our advantage then hopefully they’ll come in and see what we’re about.”
For Zumbach, Caffeine & Carburetors has always been about a shared interest and hobby—or two. His coffee shop’s brewing system currently can produce 900 cups every 50 minutes, and Zumbach is also the owner of three classic cars: ‘64 Plymouth Fury, ‘72 Porsche 911T, and ‘77 Porsche 930 Turbo.
Though he’s had offers from national tire manufacturers and others to sponsor the event, Zumbach has always pushed the idea away so that “Caffeine & Carburetors” stays true to its roots and purpose.
“We will keep it noncommercial,” he said.
Asked what he gets out of “Caffeine & Carburetors,” Zumbach said: “I get a kick out of assembling it, putting it together. Making it work and seeing the results.”
“Does it surprise me that we have grown to this point? Yes,” he added. “But it’s fun. I have fun doing it. That’s why I’m doing it.”
Here’s a video of 2013 highlights from “Caffeine & Carburetors”: