Vista Fleet sold to Duluth coupleThe couple will continue to operate the fleet’s 300-capacity Vista Star and 70-passenger Vista Queen specialty boat from its current Canal Park location behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
The Vista Fleet was sold Thursday to a Duluth couple who are no strangers to the hospitality industry and local attractions.
Justin Steinbach, 29, has been general manager of the Edgewater Resort & Waterpark for the past 5½ years. His wife, Sarah, 30, has been the Vista Fleet’s sales and assistant general manager for the last six years.
Together they purchased the two-boat excursion company for an undisclosed amount of money in a deal that closed Thursday after several months of negotiations.
Financing was provided by Republic Bank of Duluth and the Small Business Administration, according to Duluth-based ZMC Hotels, which had been overseeing the Vista Fleet’s operations and owns the Edgewater Resort.
The couple will continue to operate the fleet’s 300-capacity Vista Star and 70-passenger Vista Queen specialty boat from its current Canal Park location behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. Focusing on ways to improve customer experience with the fleet’s harbor and Lake Superior sightseeing and dinner cruises, they plan to boost the number of cruises, which had been cut in recent years.
“Our goal is that anybody who wants to get out on Lake Superior will be able to do that,” Justin Steinbach said.
The couple plan to serve in multiple roles as they operate what will be a family-run business, though many of the past employees will be returning when the season kicks off in the spring. You’ll see the Steinbachs, who have two young daughters, working the gift shop, ticket windows, cruise parties and more. Justin, who’s a boater, plans to earn his credentials to captain some of the cruises.
“The plan is absolutely to become a captain,” said Justin, who will leave his job at the Edgewater to run the Vista Fleet with his wife.
Sarah was hired for her Vista Fleet job by longtime Vista owner Monnie Goldfine, whose passion and enthusiasm for Lake Superior, the harbor and the Fleet rubbed off on her.
“Hopefully, we’ll continue the Goldfine tradition,” her husband said.
The business began in 1959 as Flamingo Excursions. Brothers Monnie and Erv Goldfine and Warren Silver bought it in 1979. For 30 years, the Goldfines expanded and improved operations. But when Monnie, the last of the brothers, died in 2009, their children felt it was time to sell, said Todd Torvinen, president of ZMC Hotels.
“Attractions like that are better when privately owned by owner-operators,” Torvinen said. “Justin and his wife bring a wealth of operational experience to the table, as well as youth and enthusiasm and ideas for a whole new generation.”
Steinbach calls the Vista Fleet’s cruises a cornerstone attraction in Duluth.
“The Goldfine family really did an amazing job building an attraction,” he said. “It’s the best way to see Lake Superior. We want to focus on customer experience and how to grow, so every tourist who comes has a wonderful experience.”
To that end, they want to build relationships with local motels, become a stronger part of the community and local tourism industry and continue to work with Savories Catering for better dining experiences.
“We want to get back to the grass roots of that,” Steinbach said.
At this point, plans are to continue with the fleet’s current two boats because, says Steinbach, it’s a business model that works.
A third boat, the Vista King, was sold to the Milwaukee Boat Line last year to provide sightseeing cruises in the Milwaukee harbor and the open waters of Lake Michigan. The Vista King, which could carry up to 200 passengers, was pulled from the Vista Fleet operations in Duluth after the 2009 season and put up for sale.
That move had nothing to do with plans to eventually sell the company, Torvinen said.
“We didn’t really need the three boats,” he said. “It was excess overhead.”
In a separate Vista-related transaction this week, the Barker’s Island boat dock and ticket office once used by the fleet were also sold. The buyer, the University of Wisconsin-Superior, is planning to expand its freshwater estuary program at the site to further freshwater research.