Ann Smith and Kim Turpin met when their children attended French Broad River Academy, as they worked together on fundraising for the academy.
Little did they know that they would launch a successful business on wheels. The two decided to become entrepreneurs and began researching the ‘needs’ of the area surrounding Asheville.
The friends came up with the idea for transportation and tours while lunching at Frog Level Brewing Company in Waynesville. They wanted people to enjoy the craft beer scene in Western North Carolina, but to do it safely.
Smith and Turpin launched Leap Frog Tours December, 2016.
Breweries and beyond
“Beer tours were where we could get started quickly,” Smith said. “The breweries in Asheville get a lot of foot traffic, but there are many craft breweries outside the city center that can use a boost in getting people there.”
Leap Frog Tours calls these ‘outlier brewery’ tours and shuttles guests in comfortable Ford Transit vans to several breweries in selected destinations including Asheville, Hendersonville, Brevard, Mills River, Franklin, Sylva and Waynesville — all with expert guided commentary.
Smith and Turpin saw the need for transportation in the area and the business idea quickly expanded beyond brewery tours.
“The idea grew to offering arts, winery, sustainable farm tours and more naturalistic tours,” Smith said.
This entrepreneurial spirit has become recognized — Leap Frog Tours was honored by the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce as Business Start-Up of the year in June, 2017.
Transportation with a twist
The Leap Frog Tours offer transportation with a twist — guided commentary and an inside look. The River Arts District tour is an example of how much fun and insight locals and visitors can have on a Leap Frog Tour.
Ashevillians know that the River Arts District (RAD) is home to more than 220 working artists in some 21 buildings. There is so much creativity in all the buildings, it’s hard to know where to start. Seasoned visitors to the RAD may have favorite artists and studios, but not venture beyond to have new experiences with different studios.
An ‘inside’ tour of the River Arts District
Even locals can enjoy being a ‘tourist’ in their own town.
The Leap Frog River Arts District tour pics up guests at designated pick-up points and shuttles the 6 – 12 guests in comfortable vans, each guest with their own seat and seat belt.
This is an artist-led tour, in partnership with Asheville Art Studio Tours, often given by John Almaguer or Tony Prince, accomplished glass artists from the NC Glass Center.
The tour ‘mixes it up’ each time, selecting different artists and studios to visit.
“You get to meet new artists,” Smith said. “We all have our favorites, but the tours open my eyes to other artists.”
Prince talked about the history of glass blowing and glass art as tour guests watched Almaguer and his team craft a large piece of glass being transformed from molten glass into a work of art.
The tour also visited the historic Wedge Building, first stopping at Michael Hoffman’s studio to watch him make a hand-built porcelain cache pot, using heirloom lace as a design element.
There are insights given at each studio by the artists themselves.
“Porcelain was discovered in China,” Hoffman told the tour guests. “That’s why it’s sometimes called ‘china.’
“There are nine different steps in completing the hand-built porcelain I do,” Hoffman said, as guests watched him mold, sand and sign a cache pot.
The tour continued with a visit Philip DeAngelo’s Broken Road Studio, where the artist talked with guests about the “Divine Proportion,” also called ‘The Rule of Thirds,’ which he said is found all throughout nature.
“It’s a way of visually dividing the canvas to guide the eye naturally through the painting,” DeAngelo said.
Before proceeding, Prince gave the guests some ‘insider tips’ on the local flavor of the RAD, including tips on two ‘laid-back’ bars, one of which is a ‘secret bar’ known only to locals.
The Leap Frog van drove guests to another area of studios including Pink Dog Creative, where artist Stephen St. Claire discussed his 20-step process for creating luminous nature paintings. St. Claire showed tour-goers his recently-completed ‘master work’ painting of Cullasaja Falls, the largest single panel of art he’s ever completed. It took St. Claire 13 months to complete the iconic painting.
“You get to talk with the artists and hear their stories,” said tour guest Paul Viau. “You learn so much.”
The final stop was with artist Daniel McClendon in a beautifully-renovated loft space, The Lift Studios. McClendon described his artistic journey from painting classical realism to embracing the abstract.
“When you get to know the artists, you get to know the art,” co-owner Turpin said.
The tours are a great activity for out-of-town guests, who are eager to explore WNC.
“People come to Leap Frog wanting to plan custom experiences, too,” Turpin said. “For example, we get bridal parties wanting activities for the bridesmaids or groomsmen. Brewery tours are very popular. Or, visitors to town may want activities to do with their friends, beyond going out to dinner.”
Wedding transportation can be arranged through Leap Frog Tours as well shuttle services for event parking.
“Destination weddings need transportation,” Smith said. “We are good at transportation options.”
For fun-filled summer excursions, Leap Frog ran popular shuttles to ‘Thirsty Thursdays’ at the Asheville Tourists.
Fun for fall
Leap Frog ‘naturalistic tours’ are ready for people to enjoy fall weather. Here’s a sampling.
• Farm-to-Table Experience at The Farm in Candler
Guests will be greeted at The Farm’s kitchen by The Farm team, including executive chef, Mike Ferrari, and gardener, Mike Read. Guests hear a presentation, explore the organic garden and visit The Farm’s kitchen to learn how the farm-to-table movement has changed the culinary world.
Guests will enjoy a meal made with farm-fresh ingredients, with a menu based on what’s fresh from the garden.
“This ideal for groups of 8-12 people,” Smith said. “We can arrange pick-up in areas including Biltmore Lake and Biltmore Park.”
• Elk viewing in Cataloochee Valley
Leap Frog’s tour guide will give guests a short history lesson on Cataloochee Valley and the elk, then the group drives through the valley looking for elk. The tour stops at an overlook to watch the sunset. A boxed picnic dinner is optional, but the tour stops at a scenic spot for guests to enjoy dinner.
What’s in development
Smith and Turpin and business development manager Mark Merritt (who is an expert brewery guide) have more ideas for future Leap Frog Tours. Follow the company on Facebook to see what’s coming up, including a future barbecue and beer pairing tour, distillery tour, progressive beer and food pairing tour in Asheville and family-friendly tours designated for parents, grandparents and children.
Check it out at Leap Frog Tours, 419 N. Haywood St., Waynesville, call 828-246-6777 or visit www.leapfrogtours.com.
By Carol Viau