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.
“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.
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.
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.
Alison Simpson is finally about to jump about her touring bus cafe after years of planning.
Many years before she became a mother Alison Simpson sat on a bus on a Caribbean island her head whirling with possibility.
A dedicated member of a British Airways flight crew, she worked what was known as “the beach fleet” flying passengers from damp Scotland to sunnier, coconut clad tropics.
There, she discovered the ‘bus restaurants’ – quirky dining ventures with old vehicles being converted into static cafes and diners for the curious tourist to enjoy.
Alison was charmed and her brain was hooked. She wanted a bus too, she thought, but how much better would it be if the bus actually moved?
A few years later she had her son Bradley, a fantastic young boy whose autism required her full time support.
Her bus idea was placed on the back burner, she gave up flying and became a full time mother, loving each day she got to spend with her son instead.
But her ‘bus bistro’ dream was never quite forgotten.
“It always stayed with me, I knew in my gut it was something I really wanted to do,” says Alison.
“And then Bradley reached high school and everything began to change.”
At school, Bradley thrived. He got better and better and more settled, to the point where the stoic young lad told his mother he didn’t need her around as much.
“It wasn’t what I was expecting,” says Alison, 51, with a laugh, “but I was thrilled to see him doing so well.”
With that, Alison’s bus dream steamrolled.
“I found my bus,” she says simply.
“These buses are like hens’ teeth and are expensive to come by but I found it online and knew exactly how I wanted it to look.”
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 at the windows, such as ‘Haste ye back’ and ‘yer erse is oot the windae’.
A vintage 1966 Routemaster, Alison’s bus was developed shortly after the second world war, to replace London’s trolleybuses. In all 2,876 Routemasters were built.
It was an innovative design and used lightweight aluminium and techniques developed in aircraft production during the war.
As well as a novel weight-saving integral design, the Routemaster also introduced (for the first time on a bus) independent front suspension, power steering, a fully automatic gearbox and power-hydraulic brakes.
Alison’s bus was registered and started its service in 1966, serving the good folk of London before it was decommissioned with the rest of the Routemaster fleet in 2005.
“Now it’s about to begin it’s life in Edinburgh,” says Alison, whose Red Bus Bistro company will launch in October.
“We will start with a charity event, a Macmillan Cancer Support coffee morning with all proceeds going to them.”
The bus will then begin its new route, undertaking afternoon tea tours and gourmet burger tours around Edinburgh.
The serving staff are to be dressed in Blackwatch tartan with barista coffees, sandwiches, burgers and cakes on offer including vegetarian and gluten free options.
Due to health and safety regulations, children under six are unable to board.
“We tried it last weekend in Edinburgh with a hen do and we’re hoping mums and daughters will like the afternoon teas too,” says Alison.
The Red Bus Tour will cover the most popular landmarks with staff schooled on local history and knowledge to help point out places of interest.
“To say we’re excited is an understatement,” says Alison.
“So many friends and family have helped out – even my cousin’s mother-in-law, Cathie, 89, has been helping make the sandwiches.
“I never thought it would happen but it has – I think it’s perfect.”
From this weekend the owner of a 1966 Routemaster will offer passengers afternoon tea or a gourmet burger tour when they step aboard.
Alison Simpson wants to capitalise on the Scottish reputation for quality food and drink. She says that £1 in every £5 spent by tourists is spent on food and drink during their visit. She now aims to capture the domestic and overseas markets with a tour of the city in twelve different languages and the very best of Scottish produce on the way.
The Red Bus Bistro will be fully staffed by a friendly smartly dressed crew who will wear Blackwatch tartan uniforms, and all equipped with local insights into the city’s many attractions.
There will be Free Wifi on board so that guests can download the Red Bus Bistro Tour App for the one or two hour tours.
The Afternoon Tea Tours and Gourmet Burger Tours depart at 12pm, 3pm and 5.30pm with the first tour consisting of a selection of freshly made sandwiches presented on beautifully decorated three-tiered, slate platters. Homemade pastries, award winning cupcakes and warm, home baked scones with traditional preserves and clotted cream bring a whole new meaning to ‘meals on wheels’. Diners can choose hot drinks from an array of specially selected breakfast and herbal teas and freshly brewed barista coffees prepared by Alison in a modified kitchen situated on the bottom deck. Afternoon Tea Tour is £34.50 per person.
An Evening Gourmet Burger Tour offers a unique, night time experience for passengers to witness the wonderful illuminated landmarks of Scotland’s capital. Diners can book their menu choice online ahead of the tour, selecting either a 7oz Angus Burger, Cajun Chicken Burger, Slow Roasted Pulled Pork Burger or Mushroom Blue Cheese Burger, all served on warm brioches and accompanied by seasoned fries and onion rings. Gourmet Burger Tour £39.50 per person.
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 and the Palace of Holyrood House, Charlotte Square, South Lothian Road, Castle Terrace, Spittal Street, Lady Lawson Street, Forrest Road, Candlemaker Row, Grassmarket, Lawnmarket, George IV Bridge, Chambers Street, South Bridge, Royal Mile, Canongate, Horse Wynd, Abbeyhill, Waterloo Place, Princes Street.
Alison Simpson, Owner of Red Bus Bistro, said; “During my days off from work on the airlines I fell in love with a restaurant on the Cayman Islands which was in fact a double decker bus offering excellent food! Quality food and drink is becoming more and more important to people as we all become more concerned with eating fresh, local produce and this is an important part of the visitor experience for particularly our international visitors.
“As a Scot who is passionate about my country the double decker bus idea inspired me to offer a combination of excellent, fresh food with a tour of Edinburgh’s top sights in a Routemaster Bus which is already turning heads and very much stands out from the crowd!”
For more information on the Red Bus Bistro visit www.redbusbistro.co.uk or telephone 01355 229 448 or 07484 073 355 and on social channels; Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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