As Rob Read sat having a late birthday lunch at the Sandtrap Pub and Grill Saturday, he watched as a party vehicle, filled with people obviously having fun, pulled into the parking lot.
When he realized some of those onboard were his friends, he wondered why they were having a party without him.
They weren’t. One of the new Pedal Pubs had been hired as a surprise to celebrate his 40th birthday.
He’d had a day-long celebration, with axe-throwing in Niagara Falls before lunch, and the Pedal Pub was the icing on the cake.
“It was a pretty good time,” he said. The mobile pub was festively decorated for the party of 13, which went to Two Sisters Winery for tastings, and then to Exchange Brewery.
“You sit facing each other, so you can talk. The music is going, with a playlist for us, and it really was fun. It was a great social event,” said Read.
The group and the vehicle got lots of attention as it travelled the streets of NOTL, with the driver avoiding Niagara Stone Road whenever possible and keeping to the side.
“This was a good idea for something different. Lots of people were taking pictures — there were a lot of honks, waving and cameras, and lots of interaction,” said Read.
“It was a great day. It started to sprinkle just at the end, but the roof is pretty big. Nobody got wet.”
The day ended back at his place, where the party continued over dinner.
The Pedal Pub is offering winery tours for up to 15 people, plus the driver, who doesn’t pedal but steers and operates the brakes.
Ten seats have pedals that propel the vehicle, with seats for five more who can just sit and enjoy the tour, or take turns pedalling.
“It’s not a super easy ride,” said Read. His friends rotated at each stop, and although it was hard work to keep it moving, especially on inclines, “anybody who can ride a bike can pedal. It really is just like riding a bike.”
It made for a fun birthday celebration, he said, adding he couldn’t imagine any reason not to enjoy it.
Pedalling gets the vehicle, which sticks to the side of the road and stays off busy streets as much as possible, up to about 10 kilometres an hour.
It’s a fun and safe alternative to bike tours, said co-owner Fern Colavecchia.
Read’s surprise party tour was the third they’ve had with the fledgling business, owned by Colavecchia and Tony Visca, owner of Johnny Rocco’s Italian Grill and the Stone Mill Inn in St. Catharines, Cracker Jacks Bar and Grill and Mick and Angelo’s Sports Bar and Eatery.
They’ve purchased two of the Pedal Pub vehicles, at $60,000 each, and the franchise rights for NOTL and Niagara Falls.
They are still working with the City of Niagara Falls and with the Niagara Parks Commission, hoping to get them on the streets of the city’s tourism district by next year.
They are fixing up an office at 319 Mary St., from which they will sell the tours, and where the Pedal Pubs will be parked.
Visca was at a committee of the whole meeting recently to tell council of his business plan, telling counsellors the tours make a great corporate team-building exercise.
One of the first tours with the vehicle was for Starbucks management, who used it for team-building, he said.
“People have a lot of fun, but they also have to work together. If they don’t pedal, we don’t move.”
There are different tours available, most around two-and-a-half hourss, with stops at local wineries, shops and restaurants. The tours can be customized for individual clients, including businesses organizing a tour for staff, or family celebrations such as Read’s birthday.
“This is huge in the U.S.,” Visca said, where alcohol can be served on the mobile pub. In Calgary, the franchise owner has been given a year for a pilot project, also serving alcohol.
That won’t happen any time soon in Ontario, he said, as he knew when he bought the vehicles.
“I think it might make them a little safer, and just as much fun. People can have a drink at the wineries we visit, but we don’t stay for long enough for them to drink too much. We do offer refreshments, but non-alcoholic. This is just something different, an alternative to bike tours.”
“This takes the danger out of visiting wineries, drinking and getting back on a bike,” said Colavecchia.
One of the big benefits, he added, as he prepared to leave with Read’s party guests, is that those on board can easily converse with each other, making it a great social occasion.
Part of the job of the driver is to provide some lively music, and to keep up an entertaining patter that can include information about the town for visitors.
When he spoke to councillors, Visca was asked about parking — he won’t be looking for a parking spot on busy Old Town streets, he answered. He wasn’t asking council for anything, but rather letting them know his plans, he said.
For more information about tours visit their Facebook page at Pedal Pubs NOTL, or their website, pedalpub.com.
They are offering a discount to locals certain days in June, which will include a donation to a local charity.