To kick off the festivities, I’d like to introduce you to Bill and Caroline Ross, owners of National River Tour, Co. and River Bend Bistro & Wine Bar in Alexandria, Va.
Starting a business can be tricky. But what about two?
Bill and Caroline Ross are Navy Federal Business Services members who had dreams of opening their own businesses, saw the opportunity and seized it!
For several years, Caroline had been building a stellar reputation in the upscale Washington, D.C. restaurant scene when she and Bill decided to embark upon a new adventure. Their vision, Riverbend Bistro & Wine Bar is tucked into Alexandria, Va.’s historic Hollin Hill Shopping Center and showcases seasonal ingredients from local farmer’s markets on its one-of-a-kind menu. The restaurant also offers a full bar, beer selection and an international wine list.
Since 2006, “Captain” Bill has also owned National River Tour Co., which offers sightseers the option of touring D.C. by boat. Unlike other tour guide services, Captain Bill works on the boat several days a week and enjoys interacting with his guests.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Bill and Caroline Ross about their business ventures and the different challenges each one brings.
Jim: Please tell the readers a little bit about yourself and why you opened a restaurant and sightseeing/water taxi business.
Caroline: It has always been my dream to open a restaurant of my own. After more than 30 years in the food and wine industry, having an opportunity to open River Bend Bistro & Wine Bar in my community, Alexandria, Va., was a perfect fit. I’ve worked with some of the finest chefs in the Washington, D.C. area and they have always encouraged me to have my own place. I learned so much from them about how to manage costs, employees and my own time.
Bill: I have owned a few businesses in my life. I spent 25 years in the graphics industry and was a partner in a printing company for over 10 years. But the industry changed drastically and I felt I needed a change. I’ve always been a sailor, so I got my Captain’s license and started working on the water. I saw an opportunity and nine years later I now own National River Tours, a sightseeing business operating on the Potomac River.
As for River Bend Bistro, I saw an opportunity to make a dream come true for Caroline. Other than common business sense, I don’t have much experience with restaurants, but I’m learning and leaning on Caroline.
Jim: What’s your biggest challenge as the owner of the two businesses?
Caroline and Bill: The biggest difference is knowing the different jurisdictions and regulations of the boating and tourism industry.
Bill: Beyond the regulations, the boat business is relatively simple: provide a good customer experience at a fair price – similar to the restaurant but on a much smaller scale with a lot less of an investment at stake.
Jim: What’s one challenge someone may not know about National River Tours and River Bend Bistro, respectively?
Caroline and Bill: The biggest challenge for National River Tours is the weather! The second biggest challenge is keeping up with the regulations. The biggest challenge we face with River Bend Bistro was actually getting the doors open. The amount of paperwork was daunting for first time restaurant-owners, but the hard work paid off. Our friendly and reliable employees have earned us a great reputation and we look forward to a successful future!
For our members who are interested in starting a business or have questions about the process, join us for a Live Q&A on Facebook this Wednesday, 5/14 from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. ET.