SIOUX CITY | Before the college kid even turned 21, he was hanging around bar owners, bouncers and drunks.
Jesse LaFramboise frequents Fourth Street saloons but doesn’t drink a drop. Instead, he hands out business cards for Sober Driver, a transportation service that promises to “get you and your car home safely.”
He’s kept the gig going for more than a year.
“I really enjoy the job,” he said. “With this business, because it is personal and just so fast, we’re starting to get regular customers.”
LaFramboise, now a senior at Morningside College, founded the transportation service in March 2012.
On the weekends, he would go out by himself and typically provide one or two rides a night. He’d load his foldable bike in someone’s trunk, drive the car home and, then, ride the electric bike back downtown.
Some nights, no one took advantage of his alternative taxi service.
“It was pretty disappointing,” he said. “There were definitely times I thought this thing wasn’t going to work.”
Worse yet, some people would take his card and throw it on the ground. Others would yell at him, “Get out of my face.”
He was discouraged but not defeated.
“I just stuck to it,” he said.
It wasn’t all bad. He’s driven everything from an old car to a brand new Mitsubishi.
Not to mention, one night, someone liked the business model so much that he went to an ATM, took out $200 and said, “Good luck.”
The mysterious man gave him the money and walked away, not requiring the service of Sober Driver.
“I’m hoping to repay him,” LaFramboise said. “That was pretty much enough money to buy a scooter and hire another person.”
Zach Stephenson, a sophomore at Morningside College, joined the three-man crew earlier this summer.
“I’m kind of a shy person,” he said late last Friday. “It was a struggle at first.”
Like his boss, he’s gotten better at approaching strangers. Stephenson, 19, lingered outside the Firehouse Bar and gave a sales pitch to a few people while LaFramboise went inside.
Business began after midnight.
Outfitted in bright yellow vests, they walked up and down Iowa Street, searching for nightlife. The neon hue caught the attention of two people outside of Teasers’ Gentlemen’s Club, and LaFramboise stopped to tell them about his business.
“That’s why we wear the vests,” he said.
Their “uniforms” kick start a conversation.
“A lot of people think we are security,” Stephenson said.
Later in the night, he drove to Sioux City’s north side to pick up LaFramboise, who ended up bringing a bunch of young women home instead of just making a pit stop at La Juanita.
If the sober drivers can’t use the bike or scooter to get back, they charge a $15 base fee, plus $3.50 per mile. Otherwise, it’s $10, plus $2.50 per mile.
They’re willing to work out a deal and offer discounts to downtown bar-hoppers who are willing to go home around 1:30 a.m. instead of closing time, when LaFramboise gets the most calls.
He should know. He’s been working almost every weekend for more than six months, going to bed each night around 3:30 a.m.
The 21-year-old entrepreneur has been busy networking and building the business. It’s starting to catch on.
“People are calling without me ever talking to them,” he said.
Others recognize him and the other two sober drivers by their signature vests.
Two weeks ago, Stephenson paced Pearl Street. With no one in sight, it looked like that night would be a bust for the business until a regular spotted the bright yellow jacket and shouted out, “Hey, scooter man!”