You’ve heard of bus tours; you’ve heard of afternoon tea. Walkinstown-born, Howth-based Karen Nixon had the genius idea to combine the two, and Vintage Tea Tours is the delicious result.
Hop on a classic, London-style Routemaster bus, all decked out in colourful bunting and foliage, and cruise around the city while tucking into tiny sandwiches, scones, fancies and lashings of tea.
It’s entertainment from another age – arguably another country too – but Karen says that Dubliners have been quick to take it to their hearts.
“We’ve had amazing feedback,” she adds. “There is something magical and nostalgic about vintage transport – it reminds people of a simpler time.
“We love when they share their memories of Dublin with us, whether that be sneaking out of the Rotunda when training as a nurse and meeting for a date under Clery’s clock, or jumping on the back of the bus and grabbing the pole, trying to avoid the conductor.”
Karen’s background is in property, but she took the leap to starting her own business less than three years ago. “I really felt like I needed to invest my time doing something more positive rather than focusing on the return of a square metre,” she says.
At the beginning, it was just Karen, a bus called Pauline and a driver. Since then, though, the business has grown so fast that she now has a fleet of three buses and a team of 10. “They are vintage lovers and make coming into work every day really fun and special,” Karen smiles.
Starting your own business is fraught with danger at the best of times, but when you’re dealing with vintage machinery the risk is even greater.
“Vintage bus parts are as rare as hens’ teeth,” says Karen. “Finding a fault, sourcing a part, flying to London, fixing the bus to ensure the following days tours went ahead – which they did – is more than enough of a challenge, believe me!”
With the third birthday coming up, Karen is looking to the future. Latest addition Molly, a vintage Leyland, is now available for private hire, and Karen promises some mouthwatering “big news” to coincide with the milestone.
Back to the here and now, though, Karen has some good advice for anyone looking to follow in her tyre tracks and start their own business:
“Do your research, do your figures and put an honest business plan together,” she says. “Get as much advice as possible and if you truly believe it will make you happy, don’t take no for an answer.
“Starting out in a new business is always going to be scary, but as they say – feel the fear and do it anyway.”