Entrepreneurial Adventure with Marc Moscato and Buffalo Bike Tours & Rentals

Entrepreneurial Adventure with Marc Moscato and Buffalo Bike Tours & Rentals

Episode Overview

Episode Topic

In this episode of TravelPreneur, host Megha McSwain takes listeners on an exhilarating journey through the streets of Buffalo, New York, alongside Marc Moscato, the innovative founder of Buffalo Bike Tours and Rentals. Marc’s unique blend of passion for public history and biking culminates in guided bike tours that unveil Buffalo’s rich heritage. The episode explores Marc’s transition from traditional public history roles to creating engaging bike tours, which offer a fresh perspective on Buffalo’s past and present. Listeners will gain insights into how Buffalo’s history, from its industrial heyday to its modern revitalization, can be explored on two wheels.

Lessons You’ll Learn

Listeners will learn about the power of combining interests to create unique business opportunities, as Marc shares his journey from disinterest in history to becoming an influential tour guide and community activist. The episode digs into the importance of grassroots efforts and community support in building a successful business. Marc’s experience highlights the significance of understanding local history and how it shapes current societal and economic conditions. Additionally, listeners will discover the intricacies of running a seasonal business and the creative ways to diversify offerings, such as integrating culinary experiences into historical tours.

About Our Guest

Marc Moscato is the dynamic founder of Buffalo Bike Tours and Rentals. With a background in public history and community activism, Marc has turned his passions into a thriving business that connects people to Buffalo’s heritage through guided bike tours. Despite an initial lack of interest in history, Marc’s curiosity about his hometown’s social and economic factors led him to explore historical narratives deeply. His innovative approach combines historical education with physical activity, making history accessible and engaging for both locals and tourists. Marc’s dedication to his community and his ability to adapt to market demands have earned him recognition from major media outlets.

Topics Covered

The episode covers a range of topics, starting with Marc’s personal journey from disinterest in history to founding Buffalo Bike Tours. Listeners will hear about Buffalo’s industrial past, the city’s decline, and its recent revitalization. The discussion includes the challenges and rewards of starting a business with minimal resources and the importance of community involvement. Marc also shares the story behind Buffalo’s famous chicken wings and how culinary tours have become a part of his offerings. The conversation touches on broader themes such as cultural appropriation, race, and class in America, framed within the context of Buffalo’s local history and the impact of the Great Migration.

Our Guest: Exploring Buffalo’s Heritage on Two Wheels: The Vision and Passion of Marc Moscato

Marc Moscato, the dynamic founder of Buffalo Bike Tours and Rentals, has carved a unique niche in the intersection of public history and biking. With a diverse career background that spans various roles in public history, arts organizations, and museums, Marc brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to his current venture. His journey is a testament to the power of blending seemingly disparate interests to create something truly innovative. Despite an initial lack of enthusiasm for history, Marc’s curiosity about Buffalo’s rich past and its socio-economic transformations led him to develop guided bike tours that offer participants a deep dive into the city’s heritage. His tours are not just about riding bikes but are carefully crafted experiences that connect people to the intricate tapestry of Buffalo’s history.

Marc’s approach to business is deeply rooted in grassroots efforts and community involvement. Starting with free bike history tours in 2018, Marc quickly garnered local support, which was instrumental in growing Buffalo Bike Tours into a full-fledged business by 2019. His story underscores the importance of understanding and leveraging local history to engage the community and attract tourism. Marc’s innovative tours, such as the “B-Sides Ride” and the popular chicken wing tour, illustrate his ability to adapt to market demands and create offerings that resonate with both locals and visitors. His commitment to highlighting lesser-known historical narratives and fostering a deeper understanding of social issues through his tours sets him apart as a tour guide and community activist.

In addition to running Buffalo Bike Tours, Marc is involved in several other entrepreneurial endeavors. He is a minority owner of a company that bottles the original chicken wing sauce of John Young, a pivotal figure in Buffalo’s culinary history. Marc also works as a consultant for tour companies, advising them on growth strategies, and is affiliated with Peak, the largest independently owned booking platform. His multifaceted career reflects his versatility and dedication to promoting Buffalo’s heritage while supporting the local economy. Marc’s work has earned recognition from prominent media outlets like The New York Times and the Food Network, further cementing his reputation as a key figure in Buffalo’s revitalization and a passionate advocate for community-driven tourism.

Entrepreneurial Adventure with Marc Moscato and Buffalo Bike Tours & Rentals
Entrepreneurial Adventure with Marc Moscato and Buffalo Bike Tours & Rentals

Episode Transcript

Megha McSwain: Greetings, Travel aficionados. Welcome back to another episode of TravelPreneur. I’m Megha McSwain, your host, and today we’re exploring the streets of Buffalo, New York on two wheels. Marc Moscato, the dynamic founder of Buffalo Bike Tours and Rentals is joining us today. Marc combines his passion for public history and biking to offer unique guided bike tours that delve into Buffalo’s rich heritage. Marc, it’s great to have you with us.

Marc Moscato:  Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Megha McSwain: Sure. Marc, I guess you’ve had a diverse career in public history before biking into the tour business or tourism. What sparked the shift from traditional history roles to starting Buffalo bike tours?

Marc Moscato: To be quite honest with you, I never liked history as a kid. It was like my least favorite subject.  I was like, why do we have to memorize these facts and figures? How many times are we going to cover the, I don’t know, Spanish Inquisition or something? That’s totally not relevant or has any implication to my life?  right. So history was not my favorite. Social studies were not my forte.  But,   I grew up in Buffalo, and if you know anything about the city,  you know, it’s in part of the great Rust Belt here in western New York.   Bethlehem Steel was the largest employer and employed 30,000 people a day.  It’s a working class city.  and we experienced some immense prosperity at the turn of the last century. But by the middle of the century, those fortunes had declined. And so if you go downtown Buffalo, even today,  there’s a super high rate of vacancy.   I guess growing up in that environment, like I saw these vacant buildings and I thought,  you had no choice but to think like, well, what, like, used to be there. Like what? . What the hell happened here? Why are others all the buildings and that made me, I guess, kind of curious about,  what are some of the social factors that shaped this place that I live in. And so I started as a, you know, in my late teens and early 20s to draw some of the lines between particularly deregulation  and policy,  outsourcing of labor and about major factors that have shaped American life and society and our economy as a whole.

Marc Moscato:   how Buffalo kind of lost a lot of jobs as a result.   That drew me to authors, for example, like Howard Zinn, who wrote A People’s History of the United States. And so I began to be really interested in the idea of social history,  and of connecting people to, to place and seeing history as a lens to understanding our present conditions and how we could take collective action to,  you know, better inform our future decision making. It’s kind of a roundabout way of how I ended up,  having a, you know, sincere interest in history and community activism.  became very involved with bicycling from an early age, too. I found a bike ride.  My God, like, so many years ago called the Buffalo Critical Mass, taking inspiration from some of the rides in San Francisco and that were happening around the world. It’s been kind of a wild ride since then. I worked for a bunch of different nonprofits, arts organizations, museums before founding one in Portland Oregon, and then moving back to Buffalo,  about six years ago, to be a part of the revitalization that’s happening here.

Megha McSwain: Starting with free bike history tours in 2018 and growing that into a full business by 2019 is pretty impressive. Can you share how the community’s response shaped your vision for Buffalo bike tours?

Marc Moscato: I guess, you know, I started off just,  you know, very grassroots.  We didn’t have any bikes. We didn’t have anything, really, except an idea.   it was, you know, me and actually, at that time, it was,  Nathan Hill   I pretty much kind of put together an outline for,  we called it the b sides ride. It was kind of an underground history ride. I thought everyone was going to be interested in history. We have like the Pan American Exposition, which was the World’s Fair that happened here in Buffalo, New York. We have, of course, the Erie Canal that was based, you know, the terminus here in Buffalo.  as I, we, you know, and I started just actually with our local community. So I started just making flyers.  We actually have a very strong bike community here, a passionate bike community here in Buffalo. People,  especially like Buffalo, have more snowfall than almost any US city. When spring comes, everybody just, like, wants to be outside. Of course.  There’s a ton of, like, surprisingly, there’s a ton of bike lanes here that Frederick Olmstead designed the city. So there’s a ton of these parkways and bike trails like it. Just really like a great place to ride a bicycle and just enjoy the city. But,  we have the largest bicycle fundraiser in the country, ride for Roswell, for cancer research and for the Cancer Research Institute.  and we are the first bike share program in the country here with ready Bike Share. There’s a ton of biking stuff already happening here, but that was really,  offering to like, tourism tours by bicycles.   You know, it’s a small city. There’s only 250,000 people who live in downtown Buffalo.  wow. For a million,  with the metro area. But,   the city has shrunk a lot, actually,  since the 1950s, but.

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Marc Moscato:  Eventually, you know, I got all those people to kind of like those first people to review us on platforms, which was huge, like TripAdvisor or Google My business.  and that began to kind of get the ball rolling with people finding us from out of town. It was interesting, the very first thing that people probably asked me once they got here was not about the history, but was about chicken wings.  and that’s kind of our lowest common denominator that people know about. You say you’re from Buffalo. buffalo wings people have no need for these chicken wings. And so that kind of led to our second tour, which was like this, this, you know, we had a history tour and then  that led to like doing a, a chicken wing tour because I just noticed that everyone after they, you know, the very first thing out of their mouth was like, Mark, where’s the best place to go get chicken wings? And I was like, mostly a vegetarian. didn’t know where to send them. But it occurred to me that people would probably pay me to take them around to these different wing spots. it’s just kind of grown from there. You know, we really have grown, especially with rentals,  in the last couple of years. We do have a fleet of, of,  road bikes of, a crew touring bikes. So people, some people will actually ride all the way from Buffalo. All, all the way down to Albany. do the length of the Erie Canal Trail because we’re mile marker zero. And then, I have a bunch of e-bikes as well.   you know, giving people different options so they.

Megha McSwain: Don’t have to have their own bike, like, they can get to use a bike on the tour.

Marc Moscato: Absolutely. If they want to bring their own bike, that’s fine. but   we do typically provide a bike rental.

Megha McSwain: Cool. And you mentioned the buffalo wings. You integrated food tours into these offerings, which I guess there was a demand for. Right. So how do these culinary experiences complement the historical narrative on your bike tours? Is there they in like do you interweave them or is it just kind of something to add on to the history part of it?

Marc Moscato: There’s some straight up history tours and then we have straight up like food tours and food tours are a lot of fun, but they’re, you know, frankly, quite kind of a pain. It’s like essentially like if you’re organizing a tour, any additional variables beyond you can complicate it. And there’s any number of factors that can go wrong. I mean, obviously if you’re doing a bike, not only do you have the tours, but you have the bikes that could break down, right, right.

Megha McSwain: All of us.

Marc Moscato: Could go wrong. But then like you start introducing like,  we have four restaurants and in all of a sudden now there’s like an additional four things that could go wrong. Sure.

Megha McSwain: Right. That makes sense.

Marc Moscato: It’s kind of finding,  you know, we found like a way to streamline it with,  some people who are close to the organization,  who are strong partners, but,  in general, , food tours can be like I don’t necessarily recommend it, but,  but they are really fun and honestly, like so we have like two main food tours. One is on the history of chicken wings. It’s called the wing ride. The hidden history of.

Megha McSwain: That’s pretty cool. I can imagine people being. Interested in that.

Marc Moscato: . And it’s, it’s interesting because,  there’s a certain narrative like if you visit the city of Buffalo, there’s kind of one bar that basically takes credit for the invention of wings. But,  kind of what I try to do with this tour is I make it, like, open ended to where,  you know, someone just wants to enjoy chicken, they can do  But if people want to, like, go a little bit deeper,  I do explore some heavier subjects. authenticity,  you know, innovation, cultural appropriation, race and class in America.  I mean, that’s a lot of things all mashed up into one, but like,  you know, there’s there’s,  of course, like,  soul food,  in, in America   that has a long lineage and tradition  and and we probably would not have what we know of as chicken wings or fried chicken if it weren’t for,  you know, the history quite, quite frankly, of slavery  you know, chickens were the only livestock, for example, that African Americans were allowed to, to keep.

Marc Moscato: There’s a long tie between soul food and chicken being on the plates and in the recipes of African Americans and buffalo being a major destination for what we call the Great Migration of African Americans, going from the South to,  seek,  better paying jobs and a freer society up in the North.  and some of these jobs that were in Buffalo and are wartime industries during World War one and World War two,  people brought their recipes from the South, and that is kind of like the lineage.  I’ve done a lot to highlight the story of a particular family. John Young,  it was his name, and he had a chicken wing shop in Buffalo, and he was kind of the first guy to do chicken wings full time.  but  so in that sense,  you know, we’re able to kind of break down some of those barriers.  someone may not be comfortable with talking about,  you know, an issue like race or that they’re just they’re on vacation, right?

Megha McSwain: Right. .

Marc Moscato: Like, I’m just on vacation. I didn’t know I was going to get some, like, whoa, chicken wings or, you know me, right?

Megha McSwain: Like, have heavy topics. Heavy topic.

Marc Moscato: But so it’s it’s set up in a way like the two are the whole structure the two are, is set up in kind of a game situation where like we’re going to present several different narratives here and like the truth is like up for you to decide, we’re not going to tell you like this is the, the, you know, you know, we’re going to present a series of different facts. You can come to your own conclusion.  but it’s like a great way to kind of break down some of those heavier topics because like, right, we’re sitting around drinking a beer, eating some chicken wings and being like,  where did these recipes come from? And right, that’s really interesting and I never really thought about it that way. And honestly, quite frankly, like, well, somebody who’s been involved with community activism and reflecting on my own life at any time I’ve changed my opinion about something that has been in a small, you know, situation where I was talking to a friend or something like that. So in a way,  you know, I really feel like my job as a tour guide is an interpreter of history,  and I feel like, actually, tour companies and tour guides have a responsibility, just as, like there’s a debate in this country about the history of statues, you know, Confederate statues, right? Things are in public.  The same thing has to go with a tour guide. You are interpreting a story and presenting that to people. Those are some of the topics that I’m interested in exploring.  on the tours.  and I try not to do it in such a heavy handed way as to like, you know, offend or,  you know, but to engage people with some of those ideas.

Megha McSwain:  You know, you were mentioning the weather earlier, it snows a lot there. And people really want to get out. Given Buffalo seasonal weather, how do you keep the business thriving outside the peak season when it’s so very cold or when it’s snowing and people don’t necessarily want to be out on a bike?

Marc Moscato:  for sure. We only operate May through October.  I have several other job endeavors. I actually worked with that family, the family of John Young, to bottle his original chicken wing sauce. that’s another company that I’m a minority owner of.  My wife has a food truck and commissary kitchen. And then,  believe it or not, I’m actually a consultant for tour companies. I work for a company called peak, which is the largest independently owned booking platform. I help advise other people who have tourism businesses on how to grow their businesses. Okay.

Megha McSwain: And you’ve gotten media recognition from outlets like the New York. Times and Food Network. I’m sure that exposure impacted your business. Can you share details about that?

Marc Moscato:  I don’t know. It’s interesting. Like, sometimes I guess the ROI, the return on investment is like, not always super apparent, but it’s definitely an awesome thing to put on your website. Sure. Like bragging. It’s like street cred.  Like Hell . They were in the New York Times or whatever. Right. Must be legit, right?  whereas like, maybe like, the sales aren’t, like, necessarily tight. I mean, a big part of this is that, like, Buffalo is not a primary, like not a lot of people like, choose to vacation in Buffalo, New York. It’s not like tons of people are coming here like Paris or New York, right? Right. You’re Rust Belt city. But,  people definitely have come on the tours because they saw something and they looked it up.  and that’s great. You know, media collateral to put up features on the website and things like that.  I have noticed that actually more like the sauce company every time we’re like it airs on the History Channel. It’s like all of a sudden there’s like 30 orders, like, I don’t know. I think that’s right. But,  I still will say one thing like we actually,  so one concept that I, you know, I try to infer,  on some of the tours is a concept called reading the landscape. There’s a lot that we can tell even if like there, if we’re a, if you’re in a downtown environment and pretty much any city and it’s, there’s a high density and all of a sudden there’s a parking lot, there was probably like a building there before and there is a history there. If we look at that, there’s actually a lot that we can infer from something as boring as, like this parking lot.

Marc Moscato: We actually like, look at the history of it, historic photographs and kind of analyze it. And    one of the things with the story, with the history of John Young in that is that his restaurant is no longer there. And that’s for a whole different bunch of reasons of,  instability financially  you know, racial instability in Buffalo. But,  because we had all this media exposure, I decided to launch a GoFundMe campaign. There is this incredible mural. I found this photograph and the interior of John Young’s restaurant, which had depicted John Young as the King of wings. He was in the heavens with two plates of chicken wings,  overlooking the city from the heavens above.   I thought it was an incredible picture. you know, I used that opportunity, the connection with Rachel Wharton from the New York Times to to launch a GoFundMe campaign. And we raised 10,000 bucks to commission a series of artists to recreate that mural at the site of his location. And just what a cool thing to be able to say that, like my company, my tourism company, whose primary focus is tours,  did this placemaking project where I can actually take my tour groups to, to preserve the history and the neighborhood itself can take pride in that story. And ownership of it is something I’m really proud of.  and I think that, like, not many tour companies would kind of go out on a limb and write or,  power to do that’s something definitely that probably wouldn’t have been possible without that media exposure.  so I tried to kind of like to use that to help tell that story for sure.

Megha McSwain: And with this success of themed tours and a growing fleet of bikes, you mentioned e-bikes as well. What new offerings do you have planned in the future, if any, or Buffalo bike tours?

Marc Moscato: I think for this year, what I’m trying to do actually is reduce the number of offerings and like anytime you offer a new product, then you have like tour guides that you have to train new material on new stuff. Right? Reduce the number of options. Actually,  we will have a significant event,  major, major event coming up next year actually, because it will be the bicentennial of the Erie Canal. So there’s going to be programming that’s going to be activating the entire upstate New York corridor,  with a major conference coming to Albany programming in and around Buffalo and beyond.  we will be doing a whole bunch of free community tours,  already, like, we secured a grant funding for that,  because it’s going to be a major, major event next year. But,  in general, I’m trying to kind of,  reduce and simplify the offerings, I guess I will say like,  you know, we’re always trying to tweak things. We have this off season, it’s like six months where we’re not really in operation. I’m always thinking, how can I make my business bigger and better? I have thought about a second location. Well, I always have ideas, but in essence, I, you know. My main goal for this coming year is just to kind of try to streamline,  perhaps make less offerings.  offer more rentals because actually rentals are a lot less labor intensive. You know, to make $1,000,  on a tour, you might have to do, like, I don’t know, 3 or 4 tours and rentals. You could just give the bike to, you know, the family, right?

Megha McSwain: And let them go. Right. And you just.

Marc Moscato: Have maintenance to deal with, you know, afterwards, maybe. But. Not really looking at this current moment too, to really expand too much.  I’m more focused on,  you know, kind of like improving efficiency. Sure.

Megha McSwain: And for those people who are listening or might be inspired by your journey, looking to start their own niche tour company, what advice would you give about creating a compelling and authentic experience?

Marc Moscato: That’s a great question. You know, I guess I would say,  you know, being open to,  you know, sincerely the community,  wants and needs starting small, starting small as possible. You know, I started with no bikes whatsoever.  We were literally using, like, the ready, like, bike share bikes that, you know, like the city bikes in New York or whatever. You know, we ran into some technical difficulties there, but all,  all part of the learning process.  you know, if you could, you know, the great thing about a tour business is that your expenses, unless you’re starting, like, a bus tour or something, like a walking tour or something like a bike tour, the investment cost is going to be, like, very inexpensive as opposed to, like, I don’t know, my wife has a food, you know, truck and commissary kitchen. She’s looking at getting a brick and mortar for her restaurant. Right. That’s going to be like several hundred thousand dollars at a bare minimum. .  starting a tour company you could do for, like, a couple thousand bucks sometimes, right? .   you know,  I just say, you know, try starting small, you know, run some tours with your friends and family, get their feedback, take it to heart.   you know, try to figure out maybe, like, what is your key value proposition? What are other people doing? What is the, you know, your unique, you know, thing that you can offer the world? You know, that said, like I said,  you know, my actual job, my job with the capital J is, being a consultant for other tour operators and tour companies. So I’m happy to make myself available. If anyone just wants to,  drop me a line, I’m happy to do

Megha McSwain: Actually, go ahead and share where our listeners can connect with you or learn more about Buffalo bike tours   you know, connect with you separately on the consulting if they would want to.

Marc Moscato: Sure. You can just drop me an email. It’s marc@buffalobiketours.com

and  I’m happy to set something up.

Megha McSwain: Great. And the actual and  is there a website for the Buffalo bike tours. Is that Buffalo bike tours.com.

Marc Moscato: You got it.

Megha McSwain: Okay, good. That was a lucky guess. Well Marc, thank you so much for sharing how you handled your passion into a thriving business that brings history and culture to life for so many, and incorporating food into that. I love that to our listeners. Don’t forget to check out Buffalo Bike Tours and Rentals. If you find yourself in New York and make sure to follow and subscribe to Travel Preneur for more stories like. Marc, thank you so much.  We hope to talk to you again in the future.

Marc Moscato: Thanks for having me. We’ll catch you later.  
Megha McSwain: Sure. Bye bye.