NORWALK, Conn. (AP) _ Clyde Ripka has never been one to keep his business landlocked.
The owner of Bull’s Head Market, Ripka has delis in Norwalk and Stamford, and his menu items can be found in cafeterias around the county, as well as the kiosk near the entrance to City Hall.
But Ripka, a self-described entrepreneur with more than two decades of experience in the restaurant business, has pushed his urban market-cafe out to sea.
His food boat is entering its second summer on Long Island Sound, where the 20-foot vessel has gained notoriety as the mobile market that putters between popular inlets, offering boaters dockside delivery of everything from steamed clams to chocolate ice pops.
“What I have done in my business life is just try to pick food and services that are needed in the area,” says Ripka. “Being a boater, I knew there was an opportunity for us to do something out there on the water.”
On a recent Sunday, the food boat was stocked with more than $1,600 in readymade sandwiches, seafood, snacks, hotdogs and hamburgers and ice cream.
The items prepared earlier that morning at the kitchen on Main Avenue were packed with ice into coolers and then loaded onto the boat.
Lorin Treglia, 19, and Ryan Davis, 16, will spend the afternoon behind the wheel, bouncing between the islands that populate the western edge of Long Island Sound.
“They’re like rock stars on the water,” Ripka says.
Dressed in T-shirts and shorts, the pair begin to make their rounds, stopping first at Ziegler’s Cove in Darien, where a boater has radioed a request for delivery.
As Ryan circles the scenic shoreline, Lorin, who has shed her T-shirt and is now sporting a black bathing suit top, smiles and waves to potential customers. A few boats pull up alongside the mobile market to check out what’s in stock.
After a few sales, Lorin and Ryan agree that it’s time to move on.
“We did OK,” Lorin tells her boss, who has been tailing them in his personal powerboat. “We sold a couple of sandwiches, some chips and dip.”
“Not bad,” Ripka says with a nod.
He puts on a pair of dark sunglasses and looks up at the sky. The sun is now shining over Ziegler’s Cove. Ripka figures there will be more activity near Cockenoe Island _ the food boat’s next stop.
Working in food service can be unpredictable _ even more so when you manage your business based on changes in weather patterns. Operating a food boat is also expensive, Ripka said.
“It takes a lot of fortitude, a lot of money and a lot of stamina just to stay the course,” he said.
“All I want people to see is a food boat in the water with good food. That’s the show. What’s behind the scenes is a lot of stress, a lot of work and a lot of trial and error,” he said.
The big advantage to being on the water, of course, is the ability to connect with an affluent clientele.
What he spends in overhead, Ripka figures he makes up for in word-of-mouth spread by boaters who are pleased by the convenience and quality of his dockside delivery service.
The publicity also translates into other business, including catering services and corporate dining affairs.
“Everybody has their choices,” Ripka said, “but if you give them the opportunity to make those good decisions, and if we’re out there in the public eye, they’ll choose us.”
Information from: The Hour, http://www.thehour.com
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)