Curved around a quiet Lake Minnetonka bay, the city of Excelsior is charming as can be, much to the delight of visitors, and the pride of residents. While the natural vista is a significant draw, the town’s businesses also serve up plenty of quaint shopping, dining and outdoor experiences—and at least one of them is performing double duty.
Since 2000, Tommy’s Tonka Trolley has perched itself at the opening of the Port of Excelsior’s landing, offering summertime treats and, since 2008, kayak and paddleboard rentals. Painted the same colors as the Steamboat Minnehaha (tickets for the sightseeing boat are available at the trolley), the rustic red and yellow stand is a replica of a historic trolley car, which very well could have trundled up and down Water Street back in the day.
The majority of the trolley’s business comes from seasonal sales of Sebastian Joe’s Original Ice Cream. About a dozen flavors are featured from the company’s frozen treat repertoire. Mackenthun’s hot dogs (another local favorite) are offered, along with nacho chips and cheese, popcorn, various candies, pop and water. A quick glance around Excelsior Commons and up Water Street yields a view of many four-legged residents and their humans enjoying the Excelsior experience, and that’s not lost on trolley owner Tommy Drummond. “I have a special menu just for dogs,” he says. Smoked meat bones à la Mackenthun’s are offered alongside frozen dog treats.
Drummond, who lives in Deephaven, worked in the corporate world for many years before taking the plunge with his small business. Now, his trolley caters to clientele of all ages. Ice cream connoisseurs will be interested to know that ordering a “tall, cold one” will take on new meaning at the trolley this season. “The Excelsior Brewery’s brew master is working with Sebastian Joe’s to come up with a really unique flavor,” Drummond says. The younger set also can look forward to a new activity: Drummond was given a 120-year-old locomotive bell, which will join the existing bell that is attached to the trolley. “The kids love to come and ring the bell,” he says. “Kids are a key component to our business.”
Any cold beverage or chilly treat is especially welcome after an hour or two of paddling around the lake. Customers can rent kayaks ($17 per hour for a single and $23 per hour for doubles) and paddleboards ($20 per hour). The fees include equipment rental, lifejackets, brief instruction and water-proof watches (to ensure prompt returns). Since offering the paddleboards, the rental business has increased tenfold. “We were one of the first in the Twin Cities to have paddleboard rentals,” Drummond says. “I kind of saw that [trend] coming.”
As anyone who’s spent time on the water knows, clear weather can quickly melt away like a dollop of ice cream on a blistering sidewalk. With that in mind, Drummond secures a 16-foot, 20-horsepower safety boat, which is docked in the bay. “We have access to go out on the lake to get [renters],” he says. “Safety is our No. 1 priority.”
Blending his dedication to the community with his appreciation for his youngest customers, Drummond is a sponsor for youth soccer, offering about 6,000 coupons for free ice cream cones to soccer participants and financing a $2,000 scholarship in partnership with Tonka United, via the FUN Club and Minnetonka Adventures, two programs for students from Excelsior Elementary School. He also contributes to local elementary schools, and the last weekend of the trolley’s season features a fundraiser for Loaves and Fishes. Free ice cream is offered, and customers are encouraged to make donations to support the nonprofit organization, which provides nutritious meals to those in need.
There aren’t any plans to open another trolley venue, but Drummond says he renewed his contract with the city of Excelsior through 2020. After that? “Who knows?” he says. “I have no idea. I had no idea five years ago that I’d still be here.”
Tommy’s Tonka Trolley is usually open for concession sales between April and October, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends.
Rentals are available when the water temperature is suitable (typically around May 15) through October 1, from 11 a.m. to one hour before sunset on weekdays, and from 10 a.m. to one hour before sunset on weekends.