We've all dreamed of quitting our day jobs and heading out in search of adventure. And frankly, if we want to start checking off the world's best beaches and all of the amazing Canadian natural wonders from our ever-growing bucket list, we'd better get a move on. Most people don't actually take the plunge and make travel a core part of their existence. But, then again, Amanda Di Marchi and Stefan Cosma aren't most people.
After several years of travelling and working around the globe, the couple decided to buy a vintage van, drive it across the country and set up a mobile bartending events company. Five years on, and many events later, their company The Mobile Mixer offers professional bartending services to the Niagara region and has some truly unique events under its belt.
We chatted with Di Marchi to find out what she loves about travel, why hospitality has always been part of her D.N.A. and the hurdles her and Cosma experienced when they decided to turn vans into bars and go from backpackers to business owners.
How did you and Stefan meet?
"I was trying to have 30 countries under my belt by the time I turned 30. I had been travelling for three consecutive years at the point that I met Stefan, and I was working and living in Japan — as a snowboard instructor and working at a bar in the evening. I met Stefan at the bar while I was working. I was a bartender and he was an Australian travelling to Japan for the powdered snow. Our first date was on this slope. We had a beer and then we met the next day for a first track because it had snowed a lot. The rest is kind of history."
Did you always love travelling from a young age?
"I did always have a broad interest in travelling and trying to move around a bit. My family didn't travel a ton, but my first solo airplane adventure was age 13, going to California where my aunt and uncle (who lived there) met me at the airport. The exhilaration of being by yourself — going with the flow, following the waves — and hoping you get to where you need to be, has always been pretty exciting to me.
From there, I went on a missionary trip to Guadalajara when I was in grade 11. As soon as I graduated high school, all I really wanted to do was travel. I had seven holiday working visas all over the world, it was a great way to be able to travel. Through those visas, I've always worked in hospitality, whether it be in hotels or bars. Growing up in Niagara, where there are such high and low seasons within the tourism industry, I'm used to having large amounts of time off. It's a lifestyle that I was introduced to quite young."
View on Instagram
What are some of your favourite countries?
"A lot of my travel has been ski-related, so very mountainous areas like Japan and Switzerland. Japan was for sure one of my favourites. It was really interesting to be able to travel to another [industrialized] country that operates in such a vastly different way than we do here in North America.
I was in Costa Rica for a year working at a hotel nestled in between the jungle and the mountains — that was pretty cool. We also went back to a place that I fell in love with in Thailand — Koh Lanta — five years later. They didn't have any motorized vehicles the first time around, and hardly any hotels — it was so chill. By the time we returned, it had been massively developed."
How did the concept of The Mobile Mixer come about?
"Stefan and I had been settled in Melbourne, Australia for two-and-a-half, almost three, years. And there was this inner city café in the central business district owned by a Canadian. It's just a tiny nook, but they had used a crane to drop an Airstream into a little alleyway. You get there and they're literally selling poutine, caesars and other Canadian-inspired food and drink. I remember going there and thinking, you can literally put an Airstream anywhere! That becomes the whole space — you pop up an Airstream and you have a venue.
I grew up in Jordan, and in hospitality. We have so many wineries in Niagara, but in Jordan, we don't even have a stoplight. Basically, you're just there to drink. So I thought, oh my God, you could bring this Airstream onto any one of these properties if you wanted to. As soon as I saw this place in Australia, that was so oddly connected to Canada, that's where my mind went."
What were your next steps?
"We came back to Canada with the vision to start The Mobile Mixer, and that's pretty much what we did. I flew into British Columbia about a month before Stefan did because I was back to work at The Calgary Stampede. That year, we had a million people attend. I was working in the only craft beer tent on the ground and it was wild. I saved all my tips and bought a green van with cold, hard cash. Then, we drove it all the way back to Ontario.
The idea was never to start a business with the van but to start a business with an Airstream. I'd been obsessively looking online, on Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji, refreshing my browser constantly. Then this guy in London, Ontario, was selling an Airstream — the 1966 Globetrotter — but he was selling it with a 1968 Ford Econoline — which was basically the same van that we already had, but in blue. He wouldn't separate them, so we bought another van — all of a sudden, we had two vintage vans and an Airstream. I wish I would have kept that van: It had this really cool paint job with poppy flowers and little skulls. That summer I started driving the van to markets to sell iced tea and flowers while we were developing the Mobile Mixer plan."
View on Instagram
What hurdles did you have to overcome?
"When it comes to remodelling, we're definitely not handy. Now, after five years, Stefan has done a wild amount of D.I.Y. — everything from polishing the Airstream to finding a new axle to fit perfectly on something that's 60 years old. But even running the business in general. We really don't come from that type of background — we were in social services and construction. Things like CRM software, client management, articles and website building, and branding and marketing — we just kind of tried different things. When they don't work, you look at it and try again, make notes. Luckily, Stefan is a bit of a spreadsheet guy."
What was your first event?
"It was in June 2018 for a bridal shower in St. Catherines. We hosted it out of a cabin in an Airbnb. There were 40 women and we made custom cocktails and had somebody come and film the whole thing so we could get some content. In reality, though, our countertops weren't secure and nothing was actually finished. It was fun to be working in this space, but we knew we had to make some changes because we didn't actually have anything glued down properly."
When did you know it would be successful?
"It really took off in 2019. Then, when the pandemic happened, it became beneficial for me weirdly, because everybody was hosting in a new way. All of a sudden, these wineries that I don't think I would have ever been included in were calling me. The estate properties that I had hoped to wiggle my way into eventually were approaching me, so it went from 10 events to 80 very quickly.
What kind of events do you do?
"I have an event coming up and it's space-disco themed. In Toronto, we did a backyard picnic event in the middle of the city. It's all over the place. Obviously, we do a lot of weddings. It's interesting to see how different they can be, but because the airstream is so iconic, and so shiny and elegant, we can fit in anywhere."
What were your favourite events?
"My favourite event truly was ours. We had such a unique experience through our elopement — we had two parties, one in Australia on our six-month anniversary and then on our one-year anniversary we had a party in Niagara. The theme was underwater, so we had a mermaid swimming in the pool and 100 inflatable orca whales. I hired a few artists in Niagara to make a humongous installation of a coral reef. It was so over the top and every single one of my guests wore blue. We had a huge octopus that we made out of spray foam that covered the whole Airstream. I think that really showcased who we are as creators and we're just trying to break the mould of what a traditional wedding celebration really means."
View on Instagram
How much RV travel have you done?
"When I bought the van in B.C., we drove it back to Ontario and then all the way to Nova Scotia and beyond. We did about 7,000 kilometres in our van. One of the resources we used was Go RVing Canada and WikiCamp — I really love the lifestyle and connecting with people to find out where we should be staying. There are so many beautiful places throughout Canada and North America that we've been able to visit through this vessel that has paid for itself many times over.
Out by Alberta there's that area [Red Rock Coulee] that looks like you're on Mars. New Brunswick is amazing, with all of these huge waterfalls and little sleepy fishing towns. We pretty much did all of that travelling through our van, which we designed to be a bar but your can take it all apart really easily. It really all comes down to the original vision of freedom through these vehicles, these travel trailers that have just provided such an open road for us in every direction, whether it's travel or through the business. It all comes down to having a low-cost overhead and being able to be comfortable in this little thing that we can bring with us anywhere."
Which countries or places are on your bucket list?
"I would love to go to the Philippines. I think the idea of 7,000 islands and crystal clear waters sounds really intriguing. We are going to go to Vietnam, I'm so excited about that. What gets me really excited about travelling is, of course, experiencing the culture, but also the food."