Throughout the week, the 17-year-old Grand Haven resident has served food from a 20-foot pontoon boat that he and his dad, Jeff Somers, turned into a Tiki hut-themed business called the Burger Boat. It’s currently moored along the Grand Haven seawall.
Tyler said he’s seen food vendors on streets, but never any that served food on the water.
The Western Michigan Christian High School senior developed the idea about a year ago and pitched it to his dad. To ensure the business was a good idea to explore, Jeff said they took the idea to a few business people to get their input and feedback.
In late May or early June, the Somerses bought the pontoon boat for $2,500. Jeff said the woman who sold them the boat gave them a discount when they told her their plans for it.
They gutted the boat, painted it, built the top and added bamboo for the Tiki hut appearance. Tyler also rebuilt the boat’s motor. Overall, about $500 was put into it for framing and materials.
The Somerses worked on the boat until they opened for business on July 31, Tyler said.
“It was a lot to do,” he said.
Since the mobile vendor idea was new to the city and county health department, the Burger Boat received a stationary permit, according to Jeff. The business also received a permit to moor along the seawall.
Jeff said Grand Haven Public Safety Director Jeff Hawke and City Manager Pat McGinnis were instrumental in providing support and assistance for their venture.
From about 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., the Somerses have remained busy grilling and serving customers. They then go home to clean and prepare for the next day.
Since it was unknown how the first venture would turn out, Tyler is using his dad’s grill. Going into the weekend, Tyler and Jeff estimated they had already served between 600 and 800 people.
In addition to starting the Burger Boat, Tyler helps build and paint for his dad during the summer. Tyler planned to continue that work on weekdays and focus on the boat on the weekends.
Watching his son’s work ethic and become an entrepreneur has been “awesome,” Jeff said.
Future plans for Tyler and the Burger Boat remain up in the air. Since his original idea was to serve food from aboard a boat that moves, Tyler said there are possibilities they could expand to include additional boats and new locations such as Spring Lake, the Grand River and Lake Michigan.