WILLIAMSBURG — It’s no secret that Williamsburg has a vibrant food truck scene, but one local couple found something that this area was missing.
Courtney Popelka and Ross Larkin have converted a 1984 Gore horse trailer into what is now a chic mobile bar service known as Sipping Southern.
“Considering how this area has such a high volume of weddings and events, I thought this would be such an amazing opportunity to bring a more affordable and unique way to celebrate and have a party,” Popelka said.
Sipping Southern Mobile Bar is designed to serve private parties and special events, such as weddings, in all of Virginia and parts of North Carolina and Maryland.
The business is based out of Williamsburg, where both Popelka and Larkin were born and raised. The two have known each other since they were eight years old and attended Clara Byrd Baker Elementary together, eventually rekindling and becoming a couple in 2018.
The idea for a mobile bar business first came to Popelka last summer.
“Back in August, I started questioning what I wanted to do with my life, kind of having, essentially, your millennial midlife crisis, wondering, do I love what I do? Do I want to do this forever?” Popelka said. “I was scrolling on Instagram, crying and scrolling, and came across a video of a horse trailer being turned into a mobile bar. So I watched it and immediately said ‘Wow, if anyone can do this, I can do this.’
For Popelka, who had over 10 years of bartending experience, and Larkin, an architect and contractor, the business seemed to fall into place.
“I started doing some research, looking into mobile bars in the area, and realized there weren’t any in the Williamsburg area,” she said. “There’s a couple in Virginia Beach, there’s a couple in Charlottesville, there’s some in Richmond. But there really wasn’t in the Williamsburg area.”
Popelka got the idea to transform an old horse trailer into a bar on wheels. After contacting a family friend who owns horses, the couple found exactly what they were looking for: an orange, rusted trailer that hadn’t moved in three years.
They bought the trailer for $400 in August and hired a welder from Gloucester to help fix it up.
“We wanted to give the trailer a feeling that it’s not a horse trailer,” Popelka said. “We wanted it to feel like you were walking up to a bar that just so happened to be on wheels.”
What sets their mobile bar apart from others, Popelka said, is that their bar can aesthetically fit in at any event they serve.
“Some of the other mobile bars already have a style tailored towards them, or might look very much like a horse trailer, and if that’s not the style you’re going for for your event, it doesn’t make sense to really book it,” she said. “So we wanted to leave it as a blank canvas where you can really cater to whatever the decor of your event will be.”
Sipping Southern’s package does not include the alcohol. Customers must buy the alcohol, and the couple will take care of the rest.
The bar service will also work with event hosts to create a custom menu of whatever they choose.
Popelka said that they wanted to create an affordable option for customers by allowing them to purchase their own alcohol from any vendor they choose to avoid costly markups.
“The way that COVID has kind of changed the wedding industry, there’s a lot more micro-weddings, there’s a lot more people using private properties versus renting out a huge venue. It just gives you another option,” she said.
Popelka currently works in the tech world and Larkin owns a contracting business with his father. While the two work full-time, their goal is to eventually make their mobile bar business their full-time jobs.
After creating a website and posting about their business on social media earlier this month to gain some visibility, the couple received hundreds of inquiries.
“It’s amazing how a small community can really come together to back a local business,” Popelka said. “The response was overwhelming.”
“We had someone asking if we would drive to Philadelphia to do a wedding,” she added.
While the couple is focused on serving Virginia and parts of North Carolina and Maryland, Popelka said that they would travel further if the arrangements make sense for both parties.
While they wait for their business license to be approved, the couple is looking forward to getting their business up and running with a goal to start taking bookings by mid-March.
To learn more about Sipping Southern, visit the website.