When it comes to running a hospitality or foodservice business in the age of COVID-19, operators are having to get more creative than ever. The ability to be flexible is key. One of the ways to do that is by making a business as mobile as possible. Mobility allows for social distancing, and the distribution of crowds and staff at events.
Today, we look at a business that embraced tap beverages on wheels a few months before the pandemic and has since made even more modifications to be sure their clients feel safe. Fizzy Vintage Mobile Bar Cart is based in Atlanta. The three-wheeled beverage cart is big enough for 6 (Perlick!) taps, but small enough to fit in almost any venue. Business owner Billy Burch came up with the idea during a leisurely run, and since then, “Fizzy” has been hired for weddings, corporate events, bar mitzvahs, and other milestone events.
Billy took the time to answer a few questions about how the Fizzy concept came about, how it works, and why he thinks mobile bars are a great option for business owners, especially now. We hope some of his insight gives other business operators inspiration to think outside the box, and reach for their dreams, just like Billy did.
Hi Billy. Let’s start with a little bit about you, and your background in the bar and beverage industry.
I always dreamed of owning my own restaurant, even when I was young. I wanted to call it “Bill’s Grill.” As soon as I was old enough, I got a job answering phones and making pizza at the local pizza place. Over the next 20 years I worked my way through every position at a number of different places. One of my favorite positions was behind the bar. There is nothing more fun or rewarding than crafting cocktails and creating memorable experiences. It wasn’t just a job, it was a lifestyle. I remember working my way through college while managing a high volume taqueria and having to take calls from distributors to place orders in the middle of class. There is something wrong with those of us that truly love the industry. It has always been long hours and physical work, but I honestly wouldn’t be me without it. I have been in Atlanta my whole life. I worked for a small husband & wife owned restaurant group for over 10 years that treated me like a son. They groomed me into who I am today in many ways.
Tell us about the Fizzy Beverage Cart, and how you came up with the idea?
Since my fiancé and I met, my long hours away at work had always been a challenge. Not to mention the holidays, birthdays, events and gatherings I have missed over the years being married to the restaurant. In an effort to live a more family-oriented life and have more flexible hours, I racked my brain about how I could transition into another career in my mid 30’s. I wondered what that would look like and what would bring me the same sense of accomplishment that hospitality did?
I am an avid runner. It’s like my meditation. It’s a time where I can free my mind to think clearly and come up with my best ideas. Casey (my fiancé) always laughs when I return from a run and pitch her my latest and greatest ideas. Granted, sometimes they are far-fetched. However, during one run in June 2019, I dreamt up a tiny tap truck like the ones we had seen popping up in Europe. A mobile bar that could be taken to any event or festival, inside or out, and deliver the level of service I had known from my years in hospitality. It could be everything I needed to feed my soul while working for myself and spending more time with family. I came back from my run that day and pitched the idea. She loved it! That was the day Fizzy was truly born.
“Fizzy” is a very special truck. Tell us how you two found each other!
We located our truck in Italy through a gray market importer. It took seemingly forever for her to make her journey to the U.S., then home to Atlanta. We took her out to local craftsman shops of all kinds. We immediately began to feel somewhat defeated as specialty shops turned us away. Apparently not everyone can turn a vintage Italian scooter into a bar with wheels! After about a month of searching we were able to assemble an incredible team of local specialists to create our vision. The Scoutman is a local car restoration shop that specializes in restoring International Scouts. He and his team lovingly restored the cab and interior back to its former glory. White Lion Scooter is a small independent scooter mechanic that is one of the few mechanics that can work on these types of engines in the southeast and he just happened to be a few miles from our house. B10 Union is a local furniture fabricator that skillfully designed and built the box on the back of Fizzy that serves as our bar and tap window (it also houses our tap equipment). Then I designed and installed our tap system (Perlick taps!) based on my years working behind the bar. Finally, we used McNeal Signs, a local sign painter to hand paint our logos on the truck. Fizzy displays the power of collaboration on a project like this and how one shared vision can be executed to build something so amazing.
Can you really serve anything out of the taps?! What’s most popular right now?
Yes! You can serve literally any kind of beverage you can imagine. I kind of feel like draft systems were pigeonholed for so long being used solely for beer. When I designed the tap system for Fizzy I wanted it to be versatile so we could make all our clients’ wishes come true. This means multiple connectors, quick disconnects and two types of gas to push beverages to the correct consistency.
Cocktails are definitely the most popular right now as people come out of quarantine. Maybe they are tired from months of drinking store bought wine and beer? Also, who doesn’t love a great craft cocktail served from a cute little Italian truck?
Why the vintage theme?
Great question! I am obsessed with vintage memorabilia and history. I love the stories relics from the past can tell us and the character they bring to modern life. Every little quirk gives us a glimpse into its past life. In Fizzy’s past life she was a shop truck for a handyman in Northern Italy. She had paint drips and dings all over her. These simple little vehicles have been manufactured there for half a century, but the design hasn’t changed that much. She tells a story of a simpler life. Kind of like the one I was searching for.
Right now we are all trying to make customers and employees as comfortable as possible as businesses reopen amidst COVID-19. The idea of an outside, mobile cart will likely become more and more popular, don’t you think?
We have definitely seen this evolve over the past months. We officially launched Fizzy in January 2020. We were off to a great start and had begun booking weddings and events for the 2020 season. Then, on March 18th, everything came to an immediate halt. Within hours every spring booking had been canceled or postponed indefinitely. It was a really scary time since we had literally sunk our entire savings on this gamble for me to change careers.
Then, after a couple of months of nothing, we had an idea. We had seen people in nearby neighborhoods posting on local groups about a cocktail truck making deliveries in Houston. We reached out in the groups and said, “Wait, we can make that happen!” Thus, our Neighborhood Cocktail Pop Up was born. We set up Fizzy in a neighbor’s driveway. We donned our masks, gloves and sanitizer and served up delectable craft cocktails to the whole street. It was such a hit! We served over 200 cocktails in under two hours to socially distanced neighbors that just wanted to get out of their houses and see other humans. Within a matter of weeks, we went from having ZERO inquires to having over 100 inquires in a five day span. It was a little overwhelming. We’ve seen a total shift away from the large private events we had planned on booking Fizzy for, to smaller outdoor gatherings in front yards and backyards. While that was not our business model to start, we have absolutely loved getting out in our community and meeting all of the amazing people in surrounding areas. Sometimes, things just work out, and this appears to be one of those times.
Have customers expressed how they like the cart for the social distancing aspect?
Absolutely! Our clients are booking for that exact purpose. We are bringing your favorite watering hole to fields, parking lots, subdivision recreation areas and even your driveway (all in the spirit of social distancing). We have seen an extremely broad spectrum of comfortability at this point. Some folks are still very big advocates of social distancing while others quickly beeline to their friends for an embrace. That is the beauty of what we are offering. You and your group can be on your terms and comfortability level. Don’t feel like it’s safe enough to return to your local bar or restaurant for that amazing Paper Plane your bartender makes for you? Let us come make it for you and your friends in your backyard. We even got a request for a drive through baby shower the other day. Friends and family would schedule a time to come by the house where we set up in the driveway, share a distanced beverage and well wishes with the mother-to-be, then move on. It really is limitless.
Any advice for someone looking into starting a similar business?
Haha! I could already write a novel. Most important is to do it for the right reasons. I did it because I absolutely love hospitality and creating unique experiences for others. I want to treat everyone like family because that is the whole reason I started the business (so I could spend more time with mine). Be prepared to get sweaty and dirty. There has not been a single event that I have not personally set up from the initial contact all the way to packing up at the end of the event and saying goodnight to the host. You must be prepared to put in a ton of work and solve problems on the fly. That was what made me very successful in the hospitality world and hopefully it will continue to translate into running Fizzy.
Would you work with Perlick again?
Absolutely! When you have 100 people standing behind you waiting for a drink, they do not need excuses about tap parts breaking. They need crafty libations served in a moment’s notice. Perlick delivers a reliable product that will not let me down when I am throwing literally any beverage its way… all the while maintaining a mirror-like, tarnish free finish that is super easy to clean up after an event. Always Perlick and nothing else!!
Thanks, Billy for your sharing story! We wish you, Casey, and Fizzy success as you continue to navigate through this challenging time. Also a big thanks to our reps at PMR for telling us about Fizzy!
Like Fizzy, Perlick is also pivoting to adapt to changes due to COVID-19, to help businesses keep their associates and customers safe. We have a brand new product guide, filled with products like mobile bars and concessionaires, designed to help customers gather safely.
Feel free to share your comments on this blog below. We would love to hear from you!