You truly never know where a browse through Facebook Marketplace will lead. Sometimes, you know what you’re looking for, and other times, an item strikes your fancy out of left field. That’s exactly what happened to Kelsey Brandon in 2015, the moment a unique business concept that has become a popular pick for Kansas City celebrations was born.
Brandon came across a 1996 Cushman Truckster and knew it could be something special, the first of what she calls her “many wild and random ideas.”
“I could totally recreate that into a beverage truck of some sort,” she said. “So I got on the phone with a fabricator, and we built the tap truck."
The idea was instant, but the end result took time. After about a year of work, Brandon was ready to unveil Tom’s Travelers’ first beverage truck to the world.
“I named her Wanda because I wanda buy her,” she laughed. “The idea of the business was to bring creativity to something as standard as bartending service, to bring some extra flare.”
An enhancement to the business itself was the addition of Kelsey’s husband, Kevin. When the couple started dating in 2021, they spent their date nights bartending events together. Kelsey taught Kevin to bartend, and the two would spend their combined tips on an actual date the next day.
“A lot of people ask which one of us Tom is,” Kelsey said. “I have to let them know that neither of us is Tom.”
Tom’s Travelers is actually named after Tom Pendergast, a Kansas City mobster, who drove the course of much Kansas City history back in the 1920s. Kelsey wanted to honor him by continuing the history he started years ago.
When she first began, Kelsey estimates she was booking around 60 events a year. Together, the Brandons have more than tripled the number of events per year!
“It has been a huge reason why it’s been so successful, because I have a partner who supports me and backs me,” Kelsey said. “I mean he can’t golf for the next three months because we have wedding season.”
The couple is constantly growing their business with the influx of interest. Recently, they added mocktail options, mastered kegging cocktails, hired extra bartenders and even welcomed a couple new members to the Tom’s Travelers family–a 1982 Bajaj Tuk Tuk named Penny and a tricycle named Wheelbur.
Penny was bought with the intention of including taps, and Wanda has recently gone through some upgrades. Both trucks require an extra custom and unique touch and lots of learning.
“Building a tap truck isn’t just like going down the street and finding someone who works on cars,” Kevin said. “You have to find a fabricator who has an artistic side to them.”
“Finding someone who can work on them or us learning the maintenance on them has been a big challenge,” Kesley said. “The new one is from India so we have to get on eBay to get parts directly from India. We had to change the starter on Wanda, and learn how to drive manuals for both of them.”
The hard work and constant learning have paid dividends for Kelsey and Kevin, not only in the amount of jobs but also in opportunities. This year has become a major milestone in their business–including bartending the NFL Draft and obtaining their liquor license.
“That was a huge moment for us,” Kelsey said. “Before, the host would provide everything, but now we can be full service. It’s really opened the door for the complexity of events. It gives us more flexibility in what we can do!”
With Halloween on the horizon, the Brandons are gearing up for a couple of major appearances. They are partnering with J. Reiger for a Halloween cocktail display, and are maintaining their reputation as a favorite drink stop on Halloween night for adults.
“At one point, I looked around and we had 40 people standing in our yard,” Kelsey said. “Now, we are forever known in our neighborhood as the Halloween House.”
Obviously, pumpkin spice flavors will come into play soon, and Tom’s Travelers uses Louisburg cider for some of their fall cocktails. Collaborations are important to their business, but really, it’s a love for their city and the people in it that drives their passion for serving and entertaining.
“I thoroughly enjoy Kansas City. I like that it’s a small-town feel, but the city is growing and that’s very exciting for us,” Kelsey said. “I think that’s my favorite part about owning the bar business, the people that I get to meet and the experiences we get to have because of it.”
Kelsey has come quite a long way since bartending in college and dreaming of business ideas on Facebook. But no matter how much success Tom’s Travelers sees in its lifetime, one thing is for sure, she will never stop dreaming.
“I think I thrive on putting myself in very uncomfortable situations and forcing myself to grow,” she said.
Whether the next step is a future event space with cocktail classes or expanding business to nearby cities, Kelsey is setting her main sights on the one thing she has always wanted.
“For now, I want to make Kansas City as strong as possible. Brancato’s is a huge name in Kansas City, so if we can be the Brancato’s of bar, that would be pretty cool.”