Interview with James Hirtenstein, Main Street Drivers

Tell us about you! Where are you from, what was life like growing up?
New York City baby!!! Born and bread. Hmmm, let me think about how it was growing up in NYC – The Met, The Garden, Yankee Stadium, Lincoln Center, Broadway, Carnegie Hall, Carnegie Deli, The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, incredible restaurants, the beach, and soooo much more. I have to say, it was pure torture (not)!!! Living in New York City isn’t for everyone but it sure has made me the well-rounded, street-smart individual I am today. I love New York but also appreciate and love everything the Pacific Northwest has shown me.

(Photo Credit: Main Street Drivers)

How did you come up with the concept for Main Street Drivers?
I am a serial entrepreneur. In 1996 I created another “outside the box” business called Baby-Safe which was a full-service child safety company that specializes in baby-proofing, pool fencing and nanny surveillance. There was no such type of business before I launched this company and soon was one of the founders for the International Association for Child Safety (IACS). After 19 years of making the world safe for small children, I became restless and started looking for my next endeavor.

It didn’t take me very long to find my next exciting business idea. Having spent my summers in the beautiful North Fork wine country of Long Island, New York, and after multiple summers of reading about the all-too-familiar drunk driving arrests and horrific alcohol-related accidents, it dawned on me that there has to be a solution to this ever-growing problem. Knowing first-hand that hired car services have become ridiculously expensive and cost prohibitive to many, the idea of providing a quality transportation service at a bargain price became my next obsession. My solution was easy. Provide just the driver and eliminate the high costs of owning, maintaining and insuring a fleet of vehicles and pass those huge savings on to my clients. An idea so simple yet nobody was providing such a service. I took my idea and literally went from concept to operating in six weeks. Our concept was an immediate success and we continue to grow in many different regions across the country.

(Photo Credit: Main Street Drivers)

Tell us what it’s like going from conception to an actual business?
Creating a business takes your full effort, morning, noon and night. But knowing that the light is at the end of the tunnel, it doesn’t really feel like work. Even though today we are running on all cylinders, I can fully admit that there were many false starts, gear changes and too many wrong turns along the way. Back in the day, “internet marketing” was more about playing video games than actual “internet marketing” so I did what had to be done and literally hit the road, went town-to-town and door-to-door to well over 1,000 hotels, restaurants, bars and anyone who hung a shingle to personally introduce myself and Main Street Drivers. It was probably one of the toughest but smartest things I’ve ever done in my life. Within weeks, everyone knew who Main Street Drivers was and they knew the face behind the company. We were off to the races and haven’t looked back since. There is no substitute to hard work and meeting people face to face. It’s an art that many people seem to forget in today’s tech-driven society.

(Photo Credit: Main Street Drivers)

What type of background do you have in the wine industry?
Before launching my wine touring business, it pains me to admit that my background in the wine industry was more Bartels & Jaymes than Opus One. I am happy to say that today it has dramatically evolved and now I am lucky enough discover and share the joys of the finest Pinots, Merlots, Chardonnays, Rieslings and so many more with my clients. I have the best job ever.

What are your favorite types of wine?
I am a big fan of Merlots, Pinot Noirs and Rieslings. We service Upstate New York and they have some of the best Rieslings in the world. And who doesn’t love a Pinot Noir from the great states of Washington and Oregon??

(Photo Credit: Main Street Drivers)

Did you initially approach anyone from the wine industry about your idea? If so, what was their reaction?
Like any good entrepreneur, I did enough market research to give myself the answer I wanted to hear-hahaha. The wine and hospitality industry has embraced Main Street Drivers from minute one. Having a designated driver not only provides a very cost-effective means of transportation but we also keep the roads safe and help the wineries sell more wine. An extra-thirsty mouth means added revenue for the wineries. Our clients are savvy wine lovers and more likely to walk out of a winery with a bag, a box or a membership they have just purchased. A true win-win for everyone involved.

(Photo Credit: Main Street Drivers)

How are driver’s screened and chosen?
Our drivers are the best!! Each driver is vigorously background checked and we interview each driver in person. You can tell a lot about a person when you look them in the eyes. We have always found that our best drivers come to us through personal referrals. Since we have been operating accident-free since day one and have incredible Yelp reviews, we must be doing something right. I take tremendous pride in my team and they are treated like family.

What has it been like receiving awards for the business?

Winner Winner Main Street Dinner!! Who doesn’t love awards?? We have had the incredible fortune of being voted “Best Car/Limo Service” for the last six years. Even though the award says Main Street Drivers, the truth is that we never could have achieved any of that success without the incredible team of drivers that make me look great every time out. They are the real winners. And truthfully, we would take a great Yelp or TripAdvisor review over an award everyday of the week. A great review beats any award hands down.

(Photo Credit: Main Street Drivers)

What are your plans for future expansion?
As for future expansion, we definitely have our eyes on a few key locations across the country. We have recently opened a few new locations locally across the greater Seattle area including Woodinville and in the city to visit the Seattle Urban Wineries, and our priority is making sure that those locations measure up to our high standards and continue to deliver an experience our customers won’t soon forget. The worst thing we could do is to grow too large too fast and lose that wow factor we deliver day in and day out.

To book your own wine tour with Main Street Drivers, click here.

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