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The Hopper Shuttle: Catering to Craft Beverage Fans

The Hopper Logo

A new complimentary shuttle service will provide a link between Duluth’s craft beverage purveyors. Starting Feb. 8 the Hopper, a 15-passenger van, will run between Canal Park, Lincoln Park and Downtown every Friday and Saturday night.

Owners Mike LeFaive and Lou Wiggen met while both working at the Ripple Bar on Lake Superior. They came up with the idea for the business while contemplating the lack of transportation options for bar patrons.

LeFaive points out that cab fares and ride share services in Duluth can be expensive. And cab service can be unpredictable, which is especially problematic in winter, if waiting outside.

Because the growth of the Twin Ports’ craft beverage industry has created pockets of taprooms in different parts of town, the young entrepreneurs recognized an opportunity to bridge the divide between them with a shuttle.

LeFaive says he’s heard from folks in the west side of Duluth who don’t make it to Canal Park to visit places like Hoops Brewing because they don’t want to deal with traffic and parking. Likewise, tourists staying in Canal Park are more apt to stay in the neighborhood rather than drive to the Lincoln Park Craft District.

The Hopper will allow riders to hop on and off at multiple stops throughout Duluth, so they can experience different craft beer and cider offerings. “It’s a great way to get people into places they haven’t seen before,” says LeFaive, which he adds will benefit everyone, cutting down on drinking and driving as well as bringing businesses new patrons.

In bringing the shuttle idea to different people, the partners had an overwhelmingly positive response, which was their primary motivation in starting the business. “The response was so good that we really ran with it,” says LeFaive. “We went from idea to LLC to opening within a month.”

Mike LeFaive with the Hopper shuttle van, parked near Hoops Brewing.

Breweries and taprooms pay a small fee to be included in the route so that the service is free to patrons. So far, Hoops Brewing, Duluth Cider, Ursa Minor Brewing, Bent Paddle Brewing, Dubh Linn Irish Brew Pub and Fitger’s Brewhouse have signed on. Additional locations are pending.

The route will likely be limited to eight stops. The Hopper will make a loop every hour between Canal Park, Lincoln Park and downtown with three-minute stops at participating breweries and taprooms.

If all goes well, the owners have already discussed getting a second van to service Superior establishments like Earth Rider Brewery and Thirsty Pagan Brewing.

“There’s never a guarantee with a business and we’re still in the startup phase,” LeFaive says, but he adds that he’s excited about the great feedback they’re receiving and how quickly details about the venture have spread by word of mouth.

The Hopper goes out for its first official foray this weekend during the Cold Front Festival in Canal Park. On Friday, Feb. 1, it will transport people between Fitger’s Brewhouse and locations in Canal Park where the festivities are happening. Saturday will include a trial run of the regular Hopper route.

Feb. 8-9 will be the Hopper’s first official weekend of service. The tentative schedule of operation is Fridays from 5 p.m. to midnight and Saturdays from 3 p.m. to midnight. Check the Facebook page for details and updates. A mobile app is in the works.

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