Photo courtesy of Black Forge Coffee House.

As the owner of two Black Forge Coffee House locations, Ashley Corts relies on caffeine and ambition to power through her day.

Now she has a vehicle to speed up the process and she’s taking fellow small business owners along for the ride.

The young entrepreneur recently purchased a 2019 Ford Transit Cargo Van, which she plans to park outside of music venues throughout Pittsburgh and, eventually, the rest of the country. A portion of the proceeds from the rolling espresso bar will go directly to the concert halls, bars and clubs that are struggling in the age of COVID-19. (Read more about that in this recent NEXTpittsburgh article.)

Corts is all too familiar with their plight.

In April, sales at her Allentown site were down $20,000 from the previous year. If it weren’t for the pandemic, the 6,000-square-foot McKees Rocks location — which opened last July — would be packed with concertgoers and coffee drinkers. Right now, only 25 people are permitted inside.

In the coming weeks, the freelance lighting designer will be experimenting with livestream shows for an audiences of up to 10 people. It’ll give local bands the opportunity to make money and get back on a stage.

She hopes to hit the road in the van by October.

Currently, the vehicle is used to transport wholesale coffee orders around the city. Black Forge sources beans from small, privately owned farms and roasts them in McKees Rocks in small, 10-pound batches.

Corts is making a Save Our Stages blend that she will sell at each tour stop. Bags will be sold for $20, with $5 going to the day’s sponsored venue.

“I’m all about taking risks,” Corts says. “That’s my favorite part about owning a business. To expand, you have to be creative and willing to take a chance and see what’s going to happen.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.