On a recent Thursday evening in Durham, about 24 people gathered at Tyler’s Restaurant & Taproom in the American Tobacco Campus for a tour of the Bull City’s paranormal activities.
Brandon Wright, a guide for Tobacco Road Tours, arranged an appetizer spread as he awaited the private party that had signed up to take the Durham Pub Crawl & Haunted Adventure Tour on the eve of Halloween.
Wright, a cinematographer and comedian who goes by the name Furious Rite, said the roughly 2.5-hour walking tour mixes, history, ghost stories and stops at four different bars and restaurants in downtown Durham.
The tour is one of many options that Brad Kennedy and his company offer in and outside of the Triangle.
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Kennedy, 55, of Apex, started the Raleigh-based business in the spring of 2009 with partner Lynn Lamont.
After years of traveling for work, Kennedy said he wanted to get to know the Capital City and sought out a tour. When he couldn’t find one, he soon decided to leave his job and start a tour company with Lamont.
“I was just burned out on middle management,” said Kennedy who had worked for technology companies for about 20 years in positions that required heavy travel.
Kennedy and Lamont had traveled across the country and the globe, Kennedy said, and decided they wanted to create a business that showcased the area. Kennedy said he used saved capital to get him through the first year of building the business.
Tobacco Road Tours initially offered historical tours in Durham and Raleigh, tours of vineyards and a tour of Pinehurst. There was some interest in the city tour, very little interest in the wine tour and none in the Pinehurst tour.
Lamont died the following October of a long-term illness.
Kennedy said that after Lamont died, he took a short break to grieve, but as a small-business owner he was also compelled to continue to market the business and give tours.
In November 2009, Kennedy visited Wilmington and took a haunted tour in downtown.
He brought the idea back to Raleigh and used the concept to propel his business forward.
Kennedy worked with the Raleigh and Durham visitors bureaus to reach his clients (about 60 percent residents and 40 percent visitors) and restructured his model in the second year in business.
The model’s central services now include city tours, a customized tour for people considering moving to the Triangle and corporate team-building events.
Kennedy later added a group travel option to destinations such as Charleston, Wilmington and other places within six to eight hours of the Triangle.
During the prime months of fall and spring, Kennedy and six other guides are leading six to 24 customers in about eight publicly offered tours a week.
Kennedy added two new tours in July. NatuRaleigh is a three-hour tour in a minibus with visits that include the N.C. State Arboretum. Buzz N GO explores the production of adult beverages in the state and city.
Kennedy is also moving forward with a plan to extend his group travel options to include a fall 2015 trip to France, Germany and Switzerland. After he finalizes the itinerary, it will likely take nine months to successfully promote it.
“It takes time to get butts in seats,” he said.