A COUPLE from Thurrock are the driving force behind a new business venture that is about to debut in the borough.

Matt and Karen O'Halloran of Fen Lane, Bulphan, are about to launch a unique drive-through coffee shop at Lakeside Retail Park, a venture they plan to be the first of many across the region.

34-year-old Matt got the idea while working in America. Originally from Crawley, Matt left school at 15 and after various casual work placements was taking on as a trainee at an international shipping company and ending up at Gatwick working for a Freight Forwarder.

At 24 he was promoted to branch manager at Gatwick before transferring as branch manager to New York at 26. At 29 he was promoted to Head of US Operations and re-located to Los Angeles where he met his now wife Karen in 2001.

It was in the States that Matt got the idea for his new business, which will be called Islandrive.

He said: "I was using this small coffee kiosk everyday when suddenly it hit me; this is what I want to do.

"As a consumer, I have very high standards which are rarely met and to coin a phrase, if you want something done then do it yourself. So I set about learning to be a retailer all the while ultra conscious that the product must not be compromised to achieve our aim.'' Now he and Karen, 40, an experienced marketing and sales executive, are about to turn their dream into reality.

This week a state-of-the-art pod' specially designed and built for Islandrive was delivered to the site and over the next couple of weeks design features such as the coffee cup drive thru window and floating canopy will be added to complete the futuristic impression.

Matt is confident his idea will be a huge success and he has secured significant backing, with a long term plan for up to 45 sites.

He said: "The market for speciality coffee has expanded rapidly in recent years following the inflow of US and Italian style coffee houses onto the High Street. This has established a coffee drinking culture in the UK together with the sale connected products such as sandwiches, cakes and pastries.

"Islandrive has been set up to provide a premium brand and a premium quality product in this market. The drive through concept for coffee is operated successfully by many independent companies in the US and the global leading brand Starbucks are now starting to show an interest in establishing their own kiosk-style drive through outlets in the US.

"The advantages of this concept are that it provides a visible and unique branding position, it occupies less space than a fixed retail unit, it provides a point of focus for Retail or Business Parks - and it is more economic to build and operate.

"We have carefully selected Thurrock for our flagship first store. Islandrive will also look to expand the number of units to 45 in the UK over the next few years concentrating first on the immediate area to establish a base from which to expand. Sites targeted include one on the A12, A127 and A13.

"Our core products will be speciality coffees, as well as healthy real fruit smoothies, bottled water and juices. As well as fresh made daily sandwiches and pastries along with other healthy contemporary snacks to accompany customers' beverage purchases.

"Islandrive's own blend of coffee is secretly crafted by our Master Roaster deep in the Cotswolds and we have teamed up with Raynor Foods Ltd in Chelmsford.

"Ray Raynor is well established and have strongly supported Islandrive in achieving a unique signature menu adapting heir own production methods to achieve their highest quality manufactured sandwich yet.

"It is an excellent base from which to supply all our units in the South East and East of England."

Successful with her own career Karen has no doubt that the couple are en-route to success.

She said 'I could just see the potential and believe so strongly in the business goals I had to get involved and be a part of Islandrive.

"At the end of the day, seeing a customer go away smiling and content from the service we have provided them is the most rewarding experience I have ever felt.

"At Islandrive, we want to break-up everyone's daily routine by injecting a fast and easy to get to little ray of sunshine; that's why we have the tag line Your Daily Refreshment Escape'."

Islandrive will shortly be recruiting and anyone interested in a position with the new firm, or wanting more details about the company can see details at www.islandrive.com