Small Town Success: How TravelBar is shaking up the bartending world

The two Nanaimo local behind the business got their start by converting some 1970s trailers

At the beginning of the pandemic, old friends Bryce Lacouvee and Brennan Hinchsliff were having a conversation when Lacouvee threw out a business idea: convert old campers into mobile bars. “It was an idea that I had in the back of my brain for a while,” he says. “Brennan and I wondered why something like it didn’t already exist on Vancouver Island.”

Lacouvee, 29, and Hinchsliff, 30, were based out of Nanaimo and had spent a number of years working in the town’s hospitality industry. Upon hearing Lacouvee’s idea, Hinchsliff was immediately sold. “The next day, I called Bryce and said, ‘We’re buying a trailer,’” he laughs. “Bryce didn’t think I was serious, but soon enough we were driving down to Cobble Hill to purchase it with the only money we had.”

It was a 1973 Travel Air camper. Once the pair lugged it home, they spent six months figuring out how to renovate it. “We had no idea what we were doing,” says Lacouvee with a wry shake of his head.

Thankfully, with the help of subcontractors, they were able to complete their first trailer renovation. Next, Hinchsliff leveraged his graphic design skills to build a website for the business, which they named TravelBar. Around Nanaimo, word spread quickly.

“Everybody was excited for us,” says Hinchsliff.

They started an Instagram account and pushed a couple of ads before their first summer of business in 2021, where they bartended at small events and weddings. At that point, it was just the two of them—and they’d often work 18-hour days doing everything themselves.

The TravelBar and guests

Their business increasingly picked up, especially as they began bartending for reputable companies on the Island. “Most of our bookings come from word of mouth,” Lacouvee says. “Our marketing costs are extremely low because of that.”

With demand growing, the pair purchased their second trailer in 2021—a 1976 Bel Air—which they renovated similarly to the first. They also added two standalone pop-up bars that they use to host smaller events, as well as a bartender referral list for those looking to hire bartenders for private parties. Now, they have a team of 11 bartenders who help them out. Plus, this year they moved into their own shop in downtown Nanaimo, where they work and store the TravelBar rigs year-round. “We pumped every dollar we possibly could back into the business and it’s paid off,” says Lacouvee.

Since launching the company, the co-founders have taken their mobile bars all over Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the Lower Mainland. Already, the business is 50-percent booked for summer 2024 and 25-percent booked for summer 2025. They’ve made it onto the referral lists at tons of wedding venues, which helps them secure repeat bookings.

The two founders bring complementary skills to the table. Hinchsliff handles the business side of things whereas Lacouvee is more hands-on, focusing on ticking every box to prepare for each event. Despite their differing roles, they split the work 50/50—and make all the key decisions together. “We’ll sit there for hours until we agree on something,” says Hinchsliff. “But it’s a good dynamic; we don’t fight even though we have different ways of thinking.”

When it comes to advice for small-town business owners, the pair have some words of wisdom.

“Take risks,” says Hinchsliff. “I’ve seen so many businesses fail because they’re scared. It takes time and you have to be patient.”

“Find what you’re passionate about and just go for it,” adds Lacouvee. “Dive in and do the best you can.”