During this Mardi Gras season in Mobile, if you happen to visit such parades as Neptune’s Daughters, Order of Isis, Pharaoh’s or Mobile Mystical Revelers expect to see a distinctly unique sight during the processions. Look for restored former public school buses in garish hues of red, green, blue and black plastered with names across side panels such as “Meat Wagon,” “Dahlia Bus” and “Paddy Wagon.” This is the Cheese Wagon armada.
The Cheese Wagon Party Bus Company was founded in 2009 by J.C. Smith. He was searching for something to bring him off the road, so that he could spend more time with his daughters and also serve as an outlet for his creativity.
Smith hails from Semmes and studied audio engineering at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla., after graduating from Mary G. Montgomery High School.
In 2001, while playing bass in a cover band, Smith met the successful rock metal band SoiL, and developed an enduring friendship with them. Eventually, Smith became the assistant to the bass player, before going to work full-time as their tour manager until 2009.
With this background, Smith’s comprehensive-yet-eclectic idea of distilling down a rock star cliché of debauchery into PG rated formatting — think “Almost Famous” meets “Ferris Bueller” — and the idea of Mobile’s Original Party Bus concept came to fruition.
Per Smith, the term “Cheese Wagon” came from slang heard by children; oftentimes said in derision while riding the bus to school. Smith’s mindset from the beginning was that the transportation had to be retired old school buses, not the luxury tour machines he had spent years essentially living on while out on the road for months at a time.
“I wanted the emphasis on the ‘party feel’ and not a ‘limo’ type feel. Imagine Austin Powers. Not James Bond. Shag carpet, lava lamps, monster sound system, dancer poles, flat screen TV’s and night club-style lighting throughout. I wanted to make it an experience, not just a ride,” Smith said.
“Party buses are exempt under the open container law in Alabama and the public needs a good safe way to move themselves, their family and friends around without the worry of someone getting in a wreck or getting a DUI. It’s been well received,” Smith said.
The Cheese Wagon grew from one bus to five buses in less than two years, and has steadily gotten more popular in Mobile, Mississippi and even Florida. They have been rented for a variety of events from casino trips, bachelor and bachelorette parties, weddings, company Christmas parties/events, and currently by Mardi Gras organizations for rehearsals, balls and even present in parades for the past three years.
“The Cheese Wagon isn’t just for adults though. It’s a popular rental for high school proms, homecomings and kid’s birthday scavenger hunts,” Smith said.
The Cheese Wagon has also found its way into the Mobile Carnival Museum’s video for tourists. In the film, a glimpse of one is seen at the end of footage as it rolls down the street during a parade.
“A lot of changes have been made since our beginning. We’re constantly adding new gear and making upgrades. At the end of the day, though, it’s about our customers and without them, we wouldn’t be here,” Smith said.
To book a reservation, visit www.cheesewagon.com or their Facebook page.
Bitcoin Mardi Gras
Bitcoin is a cutting edge digital currency that has now found its way to Mobile, thanks to local entrepreneur Michael Ray.
Bitcoin was introduced in 2009 by a developer known only under the pseudonym of Satoshi Nakamoto. A cryptocurrency, it is defined as such because it uses computer code to control the creation and transfer of money.
Conventionally, “Bitcoin” capitalized refers to the technology and “bitcoins” lowercase refers to the currency itself. The technology was patterned after traditional monies such as gold and silver coins, according to Ray.
“To increase the recognition of Bitcoin in restaurants and retailers in town, Mobile Mardi Gras 2014 will be the world’s first Bitcoin Mardi Gras. I have started a new company with a website, DixieBit.com, and have been working toward getting bitcoins recognized as valid, reliable currency for several months. Adoption was initially slow, but has been gaining momentum recently,” Ray said.
According to Ray, merchants and consumers will be attracted to bitcoins because it is more cost efficient than credit cards and debit cards, and because personal and financial information is not required for bitcoin transactions. Merchants will be attracted to Bitcoin technology because there are no chargebacks and it is less expensive to use than traditional credit/debit card fees (1 percent vs. 3 to 5 percent).
“I have signed up several local merchants to use Bitcoin systems and bitcoin currency such as The Captain’s Table Restaurant, The Battleship Inn, Serda’s Coffee, Satori Coffee, Cafe 615, and the Outdoor Exchange. I am hoping to convince more merchants that this new monetary exchange medium is here to stay. It will save merchants money and open up more financial possibilities for shoppers,” Ray said.
To learn more about Bitcoin in Mobile, visit www.BitcoinMardiGras.com.
Commercial real estate moves
The Vapor Hut leased 1,610-square-feet of retail space at 28600 U.S. 98, Suite J, in the Jubilee Pointe Shopping Center in Daphne. Its target opening is March 2014. Angela McArthur of Prudential Cooper and Co. Inc., Commercial Division, represented the tenant. Jean Lankford of J.A. Lankford & Co. worked for the owner.
Local investors recently purchased 55 acres on the north side of Perdido Beach Boulevard across from Phoenix I –IV, according to Jay O’Brien of J.L. O’Brien & Associates in Mobile, who worked for the sellers. Tucker Shaver of Remax Paradise in Orange Beach worked for the buyers. According to O’Brien, the investors plan to put the rear 42 acres zoned for 1,000 plus residential units back on the market by spring. The investors are also immediately putting up for sale four individual 3-acre sections adjacent to Perdido Beach Boulevard.
A Jimmy John’s gourmet sandwich franchise has set up shop at 62 S. Royal Street and is planning to open by the end of May, according to Fred Rendfrey, Director of Downtown Economic Development with the Downtown Mobile Alliance.
The Wash House owner Robert Yarbrough and Executive Chef Chris Rainosek are partnering together to establish a new restaurant called The Noble South at 203 Dauphin St. The new concept will be an ode to all things uniquely Southern, according to the owners. Plans are to open soon after Mardi Gras.
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