When Dan Kendra and Johnny Chung started Cars & Coffee Lehigh Valley in 2012, they never imagined the event would attract thousands of car enthusiasts monthly to marvel at a collection of vehicles, ranging from exotics to classics.
Opening Day on April 3 was a rainy Sunday morning, but that did not stop hundreds of spectators from meeting to share conversation while viewing cars of all kinds in front of the SteelStacks.
Cars & Coffee has become a global phenomenon that grew out of Irvine, California, with events now occurring all over the world. The premise is to have car lovers meet on weekend mornings over cups of coffee and conversation. It also gives car enthusiasts the chance to exhibit their own beloved vehicles.
Kendra, an orthopedic device consultant, and Chung, a plastic surgeon, crossed paths in hospitals and surgery centers. They quickly discovered their shared affinity for all things car-related.
The two began attending car events together across the state.
“On the ride back from one event, we looked at each other and were like, ‘We should really start our own,’” Kendra said.
Kendra said they started out inviting just a handful of other fellow car-aficionado friends to meet on Sunday mornings at the Starbucks in the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley.
“It was just a way to get the cars out and talk and meet some people. We’re all car fanatics,” he said. “When you see an exotic or a supercar close up for the first time and you see the precision or the body it makes you think, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of thought that goes into these things.’”
He said once they started with this intimate group, the next question was how to advertise the event to more people. He credits the rapid expansion of the event to Facebook, after he created a Facebook group to share upcoming events and photos from the events.
The number of attendees began to multiply each month, filling the entire front parking lot at the Promenade Shops.
“Johnny and I looked at each other, and we’re like, ‘Can you believe how this has grown?’” Kendra said.
With a connection at the SteelStacks, Kendra and Chung were able to coordinate with ArtsQuest and SteelStacks directors to move the event to their parking lots to accommodate the sheer number of cars.
“The synergies between the craftsmanship of the vehicles being displayed with the iconic SteelStacks as their backdrop made so much sense,” said Nicholas Michaels, director of corporate partnerships at ArtsQuest. “As the event took off and grew in popularity, sponsorship opportunities became clear.”
The event has become a mutually-benefiting relationship between Cars & Coffee and the SteelStacks, where vendors can sell their goods to the public and sponsors help provide security and police supervision for the events, Kendra added.
Kendra said the events have brought in people from all over the state and the cars are continually conversation starters into learning more about the lives and passions of other people. He said he thinks life is about passion and emotion, which is why he believes the event to be so successful as it differs from daily life, which can be mundane.
He said on a sunny Sunday morning, they can expect anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 cars at the event, even flowing into a runoff area and additional spectator area for the most expensive supercars. This can cost up to $500,000 alone.
“Some people might say, ‘Boy, they go overboard,’” Kendra said. “I’m kind of one of them a little bit, I like to joke that I take better care of my cars than my home.”
Joshua Matthew, who has attended many events, said his favorite part is the people.
“We come for the cars, of course, but the event presents a rare opportunity for a very diverse group of people that would otherwise never cross paths to meet over a shared passion,” Matthew said. “I like learning about the stories behind the builds, whether it be the 70-year-old veteran who’s had a classic car in the family their entire life or a young kid who’s building a project car.”
Matthew said people come from far and wide to get to the event, bringing traffic to local businesses as well. He said he has been visiting South Side businesses more frequently because the event draws him to the area.