On the Road Again: Classic Espresso Cart Returns to Sonoma County

The Nuns fire claimed the classic Cafe Apae vespa cart but the owners keep on rolling with another rare Italian mini-truck.

Nick Gast and Andie Buffkin didn’t expect they’d get just one use out of their 1959 Vespa Ape espresso cart before it was consumed by fire. Nor could they have known that by being slow to store their other prized possession — a 1964 Vespa gelato cart — after an early-October event, they saved it from certain destruction.

The Ape (AH-pay, meaning “bee” in Italian), namesake of their fledgling catering company Cafe Apae (they added the ‘a’ to avoid confusion with the simian), which serves espresso and gelato at private events from vintage Italian scooters, was stored in a barn at Glen Ellen’s Gordenker Ranch, near the epicenter of last year’s devastating Nuns fire. The other Vespa should’ve been there too, had Buffkin returned it instead of attending a concert in San Francisco.

“At 12:30 a.m. we got a call that Glen Ellen was on fire, and that if we wanted anything we should go to the shop and take it out,” says Buffkin, 27. But she and Gast, 33, never made it that far. The couple, who live in Sonoma town (Gast is a native), soon received a second call telling them to stay away. It was too dangerous.

Within a few days, they knew for sure: the ultra-rare Ape, custom-built by Gast and a friend, had been badly burned.

The couple had been itching to book it at weddings, parties, corporate gatherings, and other private events across the Bay Area since launching the business in May, but had found the gelato cart in greater demand all summer.

The changing of the seasons held promise; then came the fire. Fortunately, Gast and Buffkin had in their back pocket a beat-up 1957 Lambretta Lambro, another rare Italian mini-truck. Gast soon restored it and pressed it into service this spring as the Ape’s replacement. Now business is rolling again, and both carts are busier. Someday, Gast says, a twice-restored 1959 Ape may even join the fleet.