Posted on September 25,2018
In Amita's #MyDowntownRochMN blog, we learned about her perfect day, which included a trolley tour of the city of Rochester. We decided to catch up with, Dan Butterfass, the owner of the Rochester Trolley & Tour Company to learn his story along with the trolley and tour options that are available.
Samantha: Hi Dan, thanks so much for taking the time to meet with me today. Would you mind telling me a little about your role within the organization?
Dan: Well Samantha, for a small business owner, that’s nearly a loaded question. Part of the attraction of small business and entrepreneurship in general, as well as tourism in particular, is that no two days are quite the same; there’s a variety of quality tasks, goals, and projects – and hence roles and positions I fulfill within the company—that continually renews itself. That’s a roundabout way of saying I have many positions within the company, most of important of which are: Founder, General Manager, and Creative Director. Yet I occasionally still drive the trolley and enjoy conducting tours.
Samantha: So if you are not driving the trolley, what does a typical day look like for you?
Dan: That really depends on how busy we are and what day of the week it is, with Saturdays being the busiest, wildest, most-packed day of the week—by far. Saturdays are what I like to describe as a “symphony” of tour, transportation, and wedding events, with me as conductor overseeing parts of the orchestra. When everything flows seamlessly, it’s wonderful. Because of our dedicated team of tour guides and professional drivers who approach their roles with a zeal for exceptional service, striving to exceed customer expectations, most often things just flow, from one event to the next, morning to late-night.
Samantha: Well from my prospective as a rider, you have done a great job making it look easy. I know have used the trolley for a number of occasions, but what types of events do people rent private trolleys for?
Dan: One our tag-lines is “Rent a Trolley for Any Occasion!” – and customers have followed suit – we routinely rent trolleys for every type of event you might imagine.
Samantha: I'm sure that can be very interesting, can you tell me any funny or memorable events that have happened?
Dan: We’ve had a few couples get engaged on the trolley; those are memorable moments. Once a groom rented a trolley during the holiday season and pre-planned where I would stop the trolley – with a view of the city across Soldiers Field – and he and his girlfriend would hop-off so he could propose. They had met in San Francisco, hence the trolley theme. They come back every December and take the Jolly Trolley Holiday Lights Tour, to celebrate their anniversary of that night.
One time we did a send-off trolley ride for a young boy who was fascinated with trains; he was about to take an Amtrak trip with his family members, as the center of a Make-A-Wish experience. This month we’re doing a trolley ride for a family as part of their adoption celebrations. These are special; that families want to incorporate the trolley into some of the greatest milestones in their lives, makes what we do meaningful; we experience a deep sense of gratitude.
Yes, as one might expect, we’ve had some funny, if not raucous, if not downright risqué, moments on the trolley, mainly during private events such as pub crawls, late night after wedding receptions, wine tours, especially bachelorette parties. Whether you would laugh or not depends upon your sense of taste and etiquette, your tolerance for (semi-drunken) debauchery. I don’t mind pointing this out—even Shakespeare wrote quite well about bawdy and ribald behavior in many of his comedies. This type of thing has been going on for centuries.
It strikes me that some of those episodes might make good fodder for a highly entertaining essay—yet what happens on the trolley, stays on the trolley.
Samantha: That almost feels like a Vegas slogan, but it's great to hear about all the amazing memories that your organization can bring the community, visitors, and really anyone that hops on for a ride. With that, I'm really curious as to how you started your business?
Dan: I went back to graduate school for a master’s degree in creative writing in 2005-2007. Despite having three younger children at the time, and the demands of writing and reading daily in order to earn that degree, I had some extra time on my hands. By 2006 I was ready to find a way to “give back” and share some of the places and stories I’d discovered along the way. I saw that there were literally thousands of visitors somewhat stuck in their hotel rooms while they in Rochester, with not as much to do back then as there is now. It hit me like a revelation: Put your personal knowledge and experience into play by offering a series of guided tours. That’s how the “Rochester Tour Company” was born. We started by doing mainly private tours for couples and families, very small groups, via a couple of minivans. It was successful and intimate, yet very low-key.
Samantha: Well you have sure come along way from minivans. How many trolleys do you have in the rotation now?
Dan: Our fleet grew to five trolleys and two coaches, our staff has grown too. We have more employees, more team members who play specific, defined roles. We spend more and more time on training. Of course, we’ve also added more and more tours. To use an analogy, we keep throwing darts at the board to see what sticks—to find out what strikes a chord, what motivates tourists – along with those who live in Rochester and the surrounding region – to want to ride a trolley. It helps that it’s simply fun to ride an open-air trolley on a nice summer day.
Samantha: That is great to see the growth that your company has had. I can't wait to look into all the options you have available. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Dan.
For a full listing of trolley tours, please click here.
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Disclaimer: the views, comments, and opinions located within this blog are those of the community individual, not those of the Rochester Downtown Alliance (RDA).