The last year hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for many businesses, but BrewBoat CLE is dropping its proverbial anchor in the Cuyahoga River by doubling the size of its fleet and more than tripling the number of staff members.
“One of the big inspirations behind our expansion is the optimism we have for the comeback story post-COVID,” says captain Freddie Coffey, owner and Chief Leisure Officer. “After the year we’ve had, everyone is itching to get back together in a safe way, and I personally think this is a great way to do that.”
When BrewBoat CLE opens for its sixth season on May 22, it will do so with two new "BrewBoat Lite" boats in addition to the original two pedal-powered BrewBoats. Custom-built by Oregon-based Cascade Cycle Boats, the new pontoon party boats will feature the same layout with a central bar area and built-in-coolers, but will swap out the original pedal stations for pub stools. The BrewBoat Lite vessels are also slightly smaller with a 10-person capacity (while the original boats hold 15 people).
“Originally, we were tossing around the idea of doing a really big boat, such as a 25- to 30-passenger version, but we decided to do a complete 180 with two boats smaller than the ones we have now,” says Coffey. “These are straight-up party boats.”
So far, the smaller boats appear to be in demand, outselling the original boats two-to-one in pre-sales for the 2021 season. With COVID safety in mind, Coffey now only books full groups of one party and no longer offers single-ticket sales (a practice that began last year). According to Coffey, many of the bookings tend to be bachelorette parties, team-building for companies, and groups of families and friends, so the approach has been a good fit.
Thanks to the larger fleet, BrewBoat CLE will have boats passing each other every 25 minutes in the water this summer, with up to 20 cruises per day. “It’s going to be like a parade of BrewBoats going up and down the Cuyahoga all summer long,” jokes Coffey, who resides in North Olmsted.
To support the increased activity, Coffey will be hiring 25 crew members (up from what he calls a “skeleton crew” of seven people last year). The group will include up to 10 captains, along with on-board cruise coordinators and customer service representatives. “The ability to create summer jobs in downtown Cleveland is something we really take a lot of pride in,” says Coffey, who founded the company in 2015.
In the future, Coffey is hoping to expand further into other Ohio-based markets, such as the Black River in Lorain or the Maumee River in Toledo. (BrewBoat CLE is limited to federal waterways, as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources prohibits drinking on boats under its jurisdiction.) He’s also excited about continued development in and around the Flats—particularly Irishtown Bend.
"Once they clear the brush away and turn that into a cascading park, that will be a place for people to go and sit and watch vessels interacting," says Coffey. ""We're out there with freighters and recreation boaters and kayakers and jet skis—we call it the 'theatre of the river.' [From the boat], we'll be able to see not just skyscrapers to the east, but much of Ohio City to the west, which will enhance the views and be very cool."
Those iconic views are just one of the reasons Coffey can't wait to set sail once again on the Cuyahoga River. "Being able to take in the sunshine and the skyline with good food, drinks, and friends—all of those variables coming together makes it a really special experience," says Coffey. "There is nothing like a summer in Cleveland."