Bob and Mary Volpert: Idaho River Journeys (Salmon, ID)
Bob Volpert got his start in the rafting business in 1971, at a small company he started with some friends to sell inflatable boats. He went on to found Idaho River Journeys in 1978, and his wife Mary started guiding for the company in 1981. "It was a natural progression," he says. "But I don't think it dawned on us until about 1982 that we could actually make money at this, and we really started growing from there."
Today, the couple — with the help of their three grown sons — run three rafting companies spanning four rivers: The Middle Fork and Salmon in Idaho, the Rogue in Oregon, and the Kern in California. At the core of their business remains Idaho River Journeys, and the family is still based in Salmon, Idaho. Volpert believes that their focus on superior service has always made them stand out – that and the food. "Not so long ago, there was a real revolution in rafting food," Volpert says "People were doing more than throwing a few pork ribs on, and so Mary got really focused on our menu."
As a result, the Volperts and their guides spend a lot of time cooking together, everything from experimenting with the Dutch oven to trying new recipes. (At any given time, 8-10 guides headquarter at Volpert family property.) "At this point, we don't find many restaurants that can cook as well as us," says Volpert. "And what it's all turned into is a big extended family – we call each other our river family."
It may be more than a coincidence that the Volperts own three rafting companies and had three children. Will, 28, has been running and administering the Rogue River business in Oregon, and also started his own company doing day trips out of Ashland. Matt, 26, focuses on the California river business, and Skip, 23, hopes to eventually take over the Idaho operations. "I think we may very well be living the dream," says Volpert.