Ex air hostess says quirky Caribbean restaurants were inspiration behind new double decker restaurant

Taken from Daily Record

WORKING as an air hostess in the Caribbean, Alison Simpson would frequently dine at bus restaurants and knew the idea would take off in Scotland.

She was charmed by the quirky venture, with old vehicles being converted into cafes and diners for tourists to enjoy.

But when her son Bradley was diagnosed with autism, requiring her full time support, Alison put her business dream on hold.

She gave up flying and became a full time mother, loving each day she got to spend with her son. But her ‘bus bistro’ plan was never quite forgotten.

Alison, 51, from East Kilbride, explains: “During my days off from work on the airlines I fell in love with a restaurant on the Cayman Islands which was a static double-decker bus offering excellent food. But thought, ‘how much better would it be if the bus actually travelled’.

“Soon I became a busy mum and thought I’d missed my chance to start my own bus bistro, but the idea always stayed with me and my family knew it was something I was keen to do.

Happy diners

“When Bradley, now 12, started high school last year, he coped better than we expected. Suddenly I had more time on my hands and thought, ‘If I don’t go for it now, I’m going to regret it for the rest of my life’

Alison and husband Stuart managed to find a vintage 1966 Routemaster, developed shortly after the Second World War to replace London’s trolleybuses.

They set about transforming it into the stylish Red Bus Bistro offering tasty afternoon tea and gourmet burgers tours around Edinburgh.

She said: “These buses are like hen’s teeth and are expensive to come by, but we found it online and knew exactly how we wanted it to look.

“In all just 2,876 Routemasters were built and it cost a small fortune transforming it into an eatery.

“Pretty much everything was ripped out and we had to start from scratch.”

Alison oversaw the entire project, from the engine tests right down to the napkins.

The design includes hints of tartan, retro bistro seats and beloved Scottish phrases on the windows, such as ‘Haste ye back’.

The couple’s bus serviced the good folk of London from 1966 until it was decommissioned with the rest of the Routemaster fleet in 2005. Now it’s an eyecatcher on the streets of Edinburgh where the business is based.

Menu options

She said: “We thought about keeping the bus in one location, but finding the right place was tricky.

“So we decided to combine quality food with a historic tour of the city. We managed to get all the relevant permission and after gutting the bus and adding a kitchen at the rear, we were good to go.

“The idea is people can relax, take in the sites of this wonderful city and enjoy fantastic food

“It’s the first of its kind in Scotland and we are very excited.”

Alison now aims to capture the domestic and overseas markets with a tour of the city in 12 different languages and the very best of Scottish produce on the way.

The Red Bus Bistro, which launched earlier this month, is fully staffed by a friendly crew wearing Blackwatch tartan uniforms, and all equipped with local insights into the city’s many attractions.

She said: “We’ve been doing tours for a few weeks now and we’ve been inundated. We have received great feedback about the quality of food and high standard of service.

“The tour lasts an hour and a half and all our staff are briefed and able to answer questions.

“We can’t believe the response we are getting. People actually stop the bus in the street to take pictures – it’s incredible.”

With the Edinburgh tour proving so successful, Alison has now purchased a second Routemaster bus and hopes to launch in Glasgow next year.

Alison with husband and bus driver Stuart Simpson

She adds: “We want to expand and know there’s an appetite for this type of tour in Glasgow too.

“Currently we can get 40 people on the bus and we run three tours a day during the winter. We appeal to a wide range of people, which is exactly what we want.

“Now we are hosting Christmas parties and we are hoping to offer tours at Hogmanay too.”

Alison admits some of her close friends are surprised by how well the venture has taken off, with the Routemaster bus now being booked for hen parties, weddings and birthdays.

She adds: “A few people thought I was crazy but I never had any doubts. I knew it would work and we can cater for most events. Eventually I would like to expand across the country. There’s a lot of potential and we are just getting started. “

After spending two decades dreaming about starting her business, Alison admits she has no regrets and hopes she will encourage others to do the same.

She said: “It takes a lot of hard work but the results speak for themselves.

“My son Bradley is very proud of what we’ve achieved and I’m glad I found the courage to do it.

“I’d say to anything thinking about starting up their own business to take financial advise, do plenty of research and absolutely go for it.

“I never thought it would happen but it has. Our bus offers something unique and I’m very proud of it.”

The Red Bus Bistro Tours depart from Bay 16 at Edinburgh Bus Station and covers some of the most popular landmarks including attractions such as; Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood House, Charlotte Square and much more.

Throughout October Two for One deals are available on all Afternoon Tea Tours and Gourmet Burger Tours.