Meet the man bringing the Trolley Pub to Winston-Salem

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Pedal pubs. Human-powered taverns. Social cycles. Commercial quadricycles.

No matter what you call them, they’ve become staples in downtown areas across the country. And the Piedmont Triad is about to join the trend.

Kai Kaapro didn’t invent the concept. But he’s certainly one of the success stories -- especially in North Carolina. His “Trolley Pubs” are rolling in Wilmington, Charlotte, Raleigh and Durham. His latest city: Winston-Salem.

He says Winston-Salem has what’s needed for this to be successful.

“[The city] really has to have the ecosystem for it, meaning you have to have destinations to go to,” he said during a recent Trolley Pub ride in downtown Winston-Salem. “It has to be a big enough market of folks interested in doing it. You need some level of tourism coming into town to celebrate.”

Kaapro grew up in Palmdale, California, attended the University of Arizona, and has a law degree from Penn State. He even passed the bar. These days he makes his living by taking people to bars.

His Trolley Pubs started rolling in Raleigh in 2012. Today, they carry passengers through downtown stopping at multiple bars, taverns, restaurants and craft breweries.

At first, it wasn’t an overnight success.

“It wasn’t making money at the time, but it was making people really happy,” he said. “I just envisioned the future and thought this could be really good if we did it right.”

Obviously, he’s done it right. Headquartered in Raleigh, Trolley Pub of North Carolina employs 65 people.

The Trolley Pub itself is a custom vehicle built by a company in Oregon.

“So they’re not assembly line cars,” Kaapro said. “They cost as much as a luxury car.”

Each has a battery-powered motor to assist in traveling up hills, moving it when there are no peddlers or if there’s an emergency and it needs to move quickly.

Like a car, the Trolley Pub is a state-registered vehicle. There’s a North Carolina tag on the back and a blue registration card in the driver’s compartment. It can’t travel on streets or highways where the speed limit is above 35 miles per hour.

As for the beverages, passengers bring their own. Alcohol’s limited to beer and wine, and they can’t bring alcohol out of the businesses they visit unless it’s in closed containers like growlers. There’s also no alcohol consumption unless passengers are seated on the Trolley Pub and buckled in.

“It does slow down traffic a little bit like a rickshaw, like a horse-drawn carriage,” Kaapro said. “But we are very observant and very respectful of other traffic to help them pass.”

Kaapro says his company also works with those who complain about the noise.

“All the criticisms we’ve had in the past, we address,” he said. “We’ve had people reach out to us about a particular house or spot in the route. We’ll change the route just to make sure it (the Trolley Pub) doesn’t disturb them.”

Trolley Pub offers private, two-hour tours for groups of 8 to 14 people for a $425 flat rate. Riders can also buy individual seats for two-hour “mixer tours” for $37 per ticket. You can only book time and buy tickets online or on the phone ahead of time. In other words, you can’t just walk up to a Trolley Pub and take a seat.

In Winston-Salem, there are currently 11 downtown bars, breweries and pubs on the route. Most people who book private tours will pick two to three stops over the course of two hours. For mixer tours, the Trolley Pub will stop at three bars/restaurants for 15 minutes at each stop. Stops will vary based on the group on board, rider requests and the driver’s discretion.

You must sign a waiver before you ride. And if you don’t follow the rules, the driver will kick you off.

“We’re in the business of entertainment,” Kaapro said. “At its core, I mean, we’re moving around, and it’s really the environment that brings out the fun in people and lets them let loose.”

For more information including ticketing and booking information, click here.