A History of BB Riverboats
BB Riverboats gets its name from the initials of the people who were instrumental in getting the business started, Ben Bernstein and Betty Blake. Although Betty did not have a financial interest, she was a veteran in the riverboat industry. She came from the Presidency of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, which was headquartered in Cincinnati. Ben and Betty were close personal friends and there was no better person than Betty to fully understand all of the challenges of running a riverboat company. In an act to fully show his gratitude, Ben Bernstein named BB Riverboats' first riverboat after Betty. Although both have passed on, portraits of Ben and Betty are displayed on the Belle of Cincinnati, which is now the flagship of BB Riverboats' fleet of riverboats.
In 1977, Ben Bernstein purchased the Mike Fink Restaurant in Covington, KY from Captain John Beatty. Ben coined the motto, "The Romance of Riverboat Dining" for his family's new restaurant and opened shortly after the purchase. He soon found out that his motto, and the fact that the restaurant was a converted steamboat, confused his customers into thinking that the Mike Fink was a working steamboat and went out on the river for cruises. Customer after customer would inquire about when the boat was going out on a cruise. This got Ben thinking. What should he do? How can he satisfy his customer's needs? The answer was clear.
In 1979, BB Riverboats was formed and a staff began booking cruises from the 2nd deck of the Mike Fink Restaurant. The first cruise was on March 15, 1980 on the M/V Betty Blake. The Betty Blake was a 400 passenger sternwheeler that was leased from the Gateway Clipper Company from Pittsburgh, PA.
It didn't take long after the grand opening of BB Riverboats to realize that the business was going to be a success. Following the first cruising season at the Mike Fink, a long-term home was purchased for BB Riverboats and it was moved further down the river, just below the John Roebling Suspension Bridge. BB Riverboats ran out of this location for about ten years before becoming part of Covington's riverfront entertainment complex, "Covington Landing", where it operated until 2005. In 2005, BB Riverboats moved up to Newport, KY, where it is located today on Riverboat Row.
BB Riverboats has had the distinction of being awarded the exclusive rights for riverboat cruises in the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, TN. This was the company's first big break and really propelled it into the future. BB Riverboats has been a key component in all of the "Tall Stacks" festivals, which have occurred here in the Cincinnati area in 1988, 1992, 1995, 1999, 2003, and 2006. They are often called upon by local groups, media outlets, and government agencies to solve problems, answer questions, or offer advice for events or issues on the Ohio River.
The company is now run by Ben Bernstein's son, Alan Bernstein and his wife Mary. Their children, Terri and Ben Bernstein, are also key elements in the company, forming a very seasoned management team to further push BB Riverboats into the future. The future looks bright, and they are all working hard to preserve a family business that has been around for three decades.