Conversations With People We Value #31
Cars & Coffee, Caffeine & Carburetors, Cars & Croissants, you get the idea. Starting somewhat organically in 2006, the original Cars & Coffee came to life on a spacious (organizers thought) corporate parking lot in Irvine California. It’s astounding and fatal success created a new class of casual auto event. In the case of Cars & Coffee Irvine, its demise came abruptly on December 20th of 2014 when 2,000 classic cars showed up. Cause of death – too popular.
In 2013 an enterprising 20-something Jerseyite decided that North Jersey needed a branded source of events with its own distinctive character. Thus was born Cars & Caffe. Caffe is Italian for coffee. Hey, this is Jersey.
Meet the man behind Cars & Caffe, Tony Boniello
Cars & Caffe’s Tony Boniello is always looking to
brew up something new
So, what if you threw a party and 10,000 cars showed up. Ask Tony Boniello. In the fall of 2017, Boniello in partnering with other groups held a Sunday Cars & Caffe event that filled a major North Jersey shopping mall parking lot and drew 20,000 people in addition to the 10,000 very cool cars. Tony openly admits that that event stands out as an outlier significantly contrasting with the 500 to 1,000 car events associated with the Cars & Caffe name.
Drivin’ News caught up with Tony at this year’s final Cars & Caffe event. Taking place at well known classic car storage facility Motorcar Manor in Ramsey, NJ, and co-hosted by Motorcar Manor owner Matt Maisano, it provided a perfect venue to display Tony’s vision of a classic Cars & Caffe event.
Tony’s path to staging an eclectic array of distinctive classic car events began as a pre-teen. A fascination with automobiles at an early age evolved into a driving (literally) passion as Tony aged through his teens becoming a true automobile enthusiast. During the journey his desire to classic car event manage took shape.
The essence and attraction of the original and oft copied Cars & Coffee concept resides in its simplicity. It many ways it resembles a slow motion classic automobile flash mob. Tony explains saying, “it’s really intended for like-minded car enthusiasts. The crowd is welcome, but it’s really a car event for car people.“ For the event, enthusiasts’ cars casually assemble at a designated gathering site. Tony says, “It is a very laid back gathering of automotive enthusiasts from across all spectrums of the car world, muscle cars, exotic cars, hot rods, pre-war, post-war, brand-new and JDM (Japanese Domestic Market).” The event exists to provide a communal assembly for like minded enthusiasts. Tony says, It is not a cruise. It is not a concours. There’s no judging. It’s car people engaging, enjoying and bonding with other car people.” Events normally do not promote to spectators though they are welcome. Events take only a few hours on a Sunday morning, never past noon.
Co-Host Matt says, “Enthusiasts drive their car to the event. They hang out for just a couple of hours and then they leave. There’s no entry fees, no registration, no trophies, no ceremonies, no DJs it’s all about the cars. There’s nothing but car people enjoying each other’s cars and conversation. It’s pure. It’s a quick event. You can leave whenever you want. It’s perfect. You can enjoy a great car event and still have time to get stuff done with the rest of your day.
As a teenager Tony witnessed first-hand the promise and problems by attending the original Cars & Coffee Irvine event. Back on the east coast a very successful version of the Cars & Coffee concept called Caffeine and Carburetors blossomed in New Canaan Connecticut. Tony recognized the New Canaan groups commitment to the concept and their professionalism. It all came together when at the age of 20 Tony decided to bring the Cars & Coffee concept to Bergen County. So why not Cars & Coffee?
Tony Says that the owners of the Cars & Coffee brand wanted a five-figure licensing fee. As a college student, the idea of a debt that size held no appeal. Tony decided that he would develop his own branded event.
Tony says, “I didn’t see the advantage of shouldering that debt. I chose rather to build my own brand. I created my own database, my own network and my own business model.” He admits that it remains a work in progress.” His attitude embraces the “Build it and they will come” philosophy with a version that states “Keep building it better and more will come.” And what about the name?
Tony says, “I wanted to do something unique, something with a little Italian flair. There’s a lot of spin-offs of Cars & Coffee. Being Italian I had a fondness for the Italian word for Coffee, Caffe.
Tony believes that over his eight years in operation, Cars & Caffe has developed a reputation not unlike Caffeine and Carburetors which he clearly respects. Tony says, “The New Canaan event is synonymous with upscale collectible vehicles old and new in the Northeast. I like to believe that Cars & Caffe is at home in that category.”
Tony acknowledges that rules, control and being a good neighbor play a critical role in the ongoing acceptance and success of an event. Rules, if violated will result in a person and vehicle being banned. Rules are simple: No engine revving, shut your audio system off, no burnouts, no donuts (They don’t mean the Dunkin kind) and no speeding.
Tony has incorporated fund raising and food donation as an integral part of the Cars & Caffe culture. His first show featured a Hurricane Sandy fundraiser. The event at Motorcar Manor combined a very successful food drive and a fundraiser to help defray the medical costs facing an 8-year old stroke victim.
Over the years Tony has shepherded the character of Cars & Caffe events with the goal being to promote an ever more eclectic composition. He notes that early on the location of the event would significantly impact the type of cars that would show up. Tony says, “When we were at Ridgewood High School early on, we got a lot of vintage American cars and vintage European cars. As I moved the events around it became more Supercar heavy.” As Cars & Caffe has developed its personality, it has become a more consistently eclectic event. Tony, clearly pleased, says, “Now at any event you might have a Jaguar XK120 pull in next to a Porsche 918 or a ’55 T-Bird alongside a LaFerrari, a brand new Corvette next to a “63 split window fuelie. It’s great.”
Clearly, Tony possesses a vision that extends beyond his Cars & Caffe events. He has set his sights on developing a regional presence. His efforts already evidence themselves with events such as Festival Italiano a judged event with over 100 cars of Italian heritage, RennZeign German heritage concours and “Cars on the Lawn,” a curated eclectic display of 150 cars at the ex-Vanderbilt Florham Mansion.
Tony says, “I think there’s a demand for a large-scale high-end family of events in the Northeast. I would like to bring that to reality and I’m working towards that every day.
In closing Tony says, “I have found that Cars & Caffe is more about the people than the cars. I think that the community and the friendships that have been made help pass our passion, appreciation and respect for the classic automobile on to the next Generation. There’s a lot of younger people, high school kids, even middle school and younger that their parents bring. I see these kids grow up. I see these kids get their driver’s license and continue with the interest they have developed though our events.
Clearly Tony has found the rewards of Cars & Caffe to be his cup of tea.