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Penrith's Karen Radcliffe is full of beans – no matter the time of day! – The Cumberland & Westmorland Herald

Anyone struggling with the darker mornings should spare a thought for Penrith’s Karen Radcliffe who gets up at 4am every day.
Not to make her own cuppa, but to start preparing Caffeine Rush, the mobile coffee unit that has been her business for 18 years.
Karen is so much a part of the street furniture near the Musgrave Monument that some Sat Navs recommend motorists turn left by her! Reporter Ellis Butcher went along.
“It takes 15 minutes to set-up once I get here and by 5.30am my first customer is here,” said Karen, aged 61, a mum and grandma of two.
“The dustbin men — they start at 6am,” she said, as she sipped on her own coffee (an Americano with a splash of milk and half a teaspoon of sugar).
“There’s a young lad as well who works on the roads. There’s a lot of people who just meet up here — painters, decorators, shop workers.”
Of the early starts, Karen said: “I don’t think you ever get used to getting up at that time and it is hard. Especially in winter when you can hear the rain banging against the window.
“Some days when it’s chucking it down, the customers don’t expect me to be here. They should know me better — it’s only a bit of water.”
One year it was so freezing that the van nearly slid backwards off its pedestrian island into a neighbouring shop — but nothing has ever put her off.
Christmas Eve, she said, is her busiest day, when a lot of flustered men descend on town to buy last-minute gifts for their better halves.
Despite working year-round in all weathers, Karen rarely gets ill and apart from the odd foreign holiday and Christmas, the only time she gives it a miss is when the van is playing up. Her late dad, Len Saunders, had a milk round in Penrith lasting 34 years and never had a day off, she said.
He was nicknamed “Electric Len” as he had one of the first electric milk floats. “He delivered the milk and now I’m serving the coffees,” she quipped. “He never saw me do this and that’s sad as I know he would have been my best customer.”
Most days she gets through 36 pints of milk and is grateful for being able to call on another local business, Penrith Pop and Bargains, or Mister Pop — Kieran Parker — for a top-up. Her youngest son Lloyd also runs the cafe at Rheged and “knows how to do all the patterns on top of coffees”, while her son Lewis is an experienced joiner.
Karen got into the coffee business 18 years ago, having previously been a regular stall-holder on the markets in Keswick and Appleby where she sold health food, including wholesale to Center Parcs. She also did 21 years with Hill’s Garage, going back to the days when assistants used to pop out on to the forecourt and fill-up customers’ cars. Nowadays, she helps people fill up in a different way — with caffeine.
It all started many years ago with a visit to North Yorkshire. “I went to Catterick market for a day out and saw two mobile Caffeine Rushes,” said Karen.
“We got talking and he gave me a coffee and then I went down to Blackburn to the head office and talked to them. I had to put a plan in to Eden Council and stand up in front of a committee and tell them what I planned to do.
“I then had to go out while they discussed it, and then when I came back in they said yes — it was a brilliant idea. Back then, there was no Costa, Greggs or McDonald’s — just me.
“It was hard because no-one really knew what a good coffee was. Caffeine Rush used to put 5p on every cup I sold. I would send them a cheque each week for about £40 for all the 5ps.
“I set off charging £1.20 and now it’s £2.40 so I haven’t really gone up much in 18 years.”
COVID shut her down for seven weeks when she never made a penny, spending the time with her mum, Elsie, who turns 92 in December.
On the day we spoke, Karen had not long turned around a single order for 30-odd coffees, teas and hot chocolate, coming in at around £90.
The massive demand for a hot drink came in after the power supply to a local business went down.
There are clearly ups and downs, but she has never looked back since taking on the business. “I love working for myself and I don’t think I could work for anyone now. I just love people and talking to them. I would do it all again if I could. It’s nice to get a job you love.
“My customers all support me and I am so lucky. I’m an optimist.”
I suggest that her (coffee) cup is always half full. “Absolutely!” she replies.
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