As traditional bars navigate Indiana’s return from the COVID-19 shutdown, one Fort Wayne-based boat rental company is expanding into Cicero with its alternative approach to socializing.
Joey Tippmann, owner of Rum Runner Party Boats, has nearly finished building his fleet’s sixth vessel and is planning to launch it in Cicero later this month. He and franchisee Katy Seagraves are partnering with the Boathouse Kitchen & Swan Dive on Morse Reservoir to offer families, friends and corporate events an open-air alternative to socializing as businesses return from the pandemic-related shutdown.
“Of course there will be people that have reservations and it’s completely understandable, but this is one way to potentially get back to normal,” Seagraves said. “Hopefully, people will feel comfortable because it’s an outdoor event with a maximum of 16 people.”
Rum Runner Party Boats launched in 2015 where the St. Mary’s, St. Joseph’s and Maumee rivers meet in downtown Fort Wayne. Tippmann custom-builds the business’ pontoon boats and is planning to launch a fourth one in downtown Fort Wayne next year.
“We try to partner with waterfront restaurants to provide a secondary means of entertainment. Basically, they already have docks and dock slips and the means,” Tippmann said. “We just invite more people to their restaurants.”
Even though Rum Runner has partnered with The Deck in Fort Wayne and Club Paradise on Lake James in Angola, those operations allow passengers to bring their own provisions.
Seagraves said the Cicero franchise will differ from those other locations in that it will only allow food and drink purchased at the Boathouse Kitchen & Swan Dive’s dockside service at 409 W. Jackson St.
“It’s just the perfect place in a little lake community where people go to watch the sunset and take in the view,” Seagraves said. “They have wonderful food, the perfect atmosphere and this is a new addition. There’s not been any sort of boat rentals running out of there.”
The Cicero-bound boat is 25 feet long and 12 feet wide, with four pontoons on the bottom. Seagraves said it’s similar to a pedal pub for its centrally located bar with six stools on each side, as well as seating at the front and back of the boat.
The two- and three-hour voyages require a minimum of 12 people and max-out at 16, with room for one driver. The cost is $35 per person for a two-hour trip and $50 per person for three hours. Tippmann said the return from the state-imposed COVID-19 shutdown was slow at first as people tested the waters, but now things are getting back to normal.
“We feel that it’s a pretty good structure. You’re bringing your own people and you’re not surrounding yourself with strangers, so you’re limiting the risk a bit,” Tippmann said.
Even so, Seagraves said drivers will sanitize the boats during and between each trip and there will be additional hand sanitizer onboard. Rum Runner won’t require passengers to wear a mask, but a driver will wear one if passengers request it.
In addition to those Indiana locations, Tippmann said the Rum Runner franchise expanded this year to Key West, where he’s already planning to add another boat.
“We’re just trying to put boats in places as people get ahold of us,” Tippmann said. “We’d like to put more boats down south and in more of the local lakes in Indiana, just anywhere people are interested.”