More than a cup of coffee: Sarah Knabel creates community through Bob & Lou’s

Owner of Bob & Lou's Coffee Camper Sarah Knabel. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Owner of Bob & Lou's Coffee Camper Sarah Knabel. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Owner of Bob & Lou's Coffee Camper Sarah Knabel. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Owner of Bob & Lou's Coffee Camper Sarah Knabel. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Sarah Knabel has never been one to turn down a good cup of coffee.

As an Iowa State University student, she fell in love with the atmosphere of the campus coffee house that provided respite from her busy class schedule as a marketing and public relations major.

That enthusiasm followed the Dubuque native when she relocated to Los Angeles shortly after graduating, pursuing a corporate position within a management firm.

“I didn’t enjoy the job as much as I enjoyed the coffee,” said Knabel, 28, with a laugh. “In Los Angeles, coffee is an experience.”

While Knabel might not have found her career calling in the corporate world, her love for a cup of jo filled notebook upon notebook of ideas that crafted a coffee experience she could share with others.

After her position came to an end due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided it was the perfect time to make her dream a reality.

For the past four years, Knabel has owned and operated Bob & Lou’s Coffee, a camper equipped to serve hot and cold specialty brews at public and private events across the tri-states.

“It was born out of the pandemic, but that ended up working well because people could stay outside,” Knabel. “It provided a mobile option for people to get their coffee.”

In the spring of 2020, the dream grew as Bob & Lou’s established a walk-up, brick-and-mortar location at 1895 University Ave., neighboring Magoo’s Pizza.

“The location was going to be temporary as it was just me and the camper at the time,” Knabel said. “Susan Farber (owner of Magoo’s Pizza, which formerly operated Magoo’s Brew at 1895 University Ave.) came up to me at the Millwork Night Market and asked if I would be interested in renting that space. It was already set up to be a coffee shop, and it was right across from the University of Dubuque and near UnityPoint Health — Finley Hospital. My mom is a nurse, so we made sure we opened at 6 a.m. for the nurses’ shift change. It has ended up being perfect for us.”

Named after Knabel’s grandparents who provided her earliest memories of coffee, Bob & Lou’s serves hot and cold seasonal coffee drinks, including innovative flavor pairings such as blackberry vanilla. Also included on the menu are classic concoctions, like drip coffee, Americano, macchiato, latte, mocha, cold brew, chai and matcha.

The non-coffee drinker can enjoy a variety of lemonades — like lavender mint, strawberry guava, dragonfruit peach, raspberry, triple berry and spicy jalapeno — or refreshers — like strawberry dragonfruit, peach green tea and raspberry green tea.

Bob & Lou’s also recently launched to-go bottles of any menu item that can be taken home, refrigerated and enjoyed over ice later.

It’s a creative outlet not only for Knabel, but for her staff, which now includes three baristas.

“At first, it was like leaving my baby, but having additional help has been really great,” Knabel said. “I have trust in all of them. They’re great with customers, talking with him and asking them about their day. They also bring a lot of fresh ideas with them. It’s community minded, and everyone adds something unique to the business.”

Tapping into creating an experience surrounding coffee, patrons also can find merchandise, from seasonal clothing to candles, coffee cups and more.

Knabel said the community has welcomed her vision for creating community surrounding coffee, as well as receiving support from other like-minded young entrepreneurs, her family and soon-to-be husband.

Knabel is set to walk down the aisle this fall.

“It’s all about thinking outside the box, keeping the connection with your customers going and even bouncing ideas off of other entrepreneurs who are not in the coffee industry,” she said. “I want to create a memorable experience for people that is more than just picking up a cup of coffee.”

Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.

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