By Lucy M. Pritchett

Although originally from California, Lisa Higgins quickly caught Derby fever once she moved here 25 years ago with her husband Sean, a Louisville native.

In February 2008, the couple founded Mint Julep Tours and Transportation. Lisa has a background in advertising and special events, and Sean brings his tech expertise to the partnership.

“We are now celebrating our 10th Derby season,” Lisa says. “When we started out we had one 14-passenger bus and a van — both of which we parked in the driveway of our home. I used the kitchen table as my office. Sean and I both sold the tours, drove the vehicles, served as guides, and even washed the buses. I have truly done it all. Now we have 22 vehicles,17 full-time office staff, and 35 tour guides and drivers. Our tour guides are all ages, are very accomplished people, and have a variety of professional backgrounds.”

Mint Julep Tours offers local sightseeing tours and getaways to Kentucky distilleries, wineries, horse farms, and breweries. All tours leave from the Mint Julep Gift Shop at the Galt House Hotel. Derby week the public tours run Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday, she says.

The company also offers exclusive customized tours and what Lisa calls “elevated experiences,” where it partners with Kentucky’s best bourbon distilleries, restaurants, and destinations for special events throughout the year. “Each of our elevated experiences takes you on a one-of-a-kind adventure,” Lisa says.

“Now that the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a national and international destination, we are seeing more people working from their double bucket list and coming to the Derby and touring the Bourbon Trail.”

Photos by Patti Hartog

Last year the company showed off Kentucky’s charms to 30,000 guests. This year, Mint Julep Tours is expanding to Nashville to provide excursions on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail.

The weeks leading up to and after the Derby are especially busy, she says, with Oaks Day being the busiest as people will take a morning tour and then go out to the track.

“Visitors and locals both are starting to make plans as soon as September or October before Derby, although some plan a year in advance,” she says. “Over the years, I have seen that people come to the city earlier before Derby and leave later after the weekend is over.”

A piece of the business that has grown is serving local customers and clients, Lisa says. “Even though the Bourbon Trail is available to do independently, some people don’t want to do it on their own. They want to experience what everyone else is talking about and enjoy the experience with their guests and family.”

After seeing that Derby guests are introduced to the excitement that carries Louisville through the weeks leading up to the first Saturday in May, how does Lisa spend Derby Day?

“Sean and I have been going to the Derby for 25 years,” she says. “I love the hats, the energy of the city, and the traditions that go with the event. And, of course, a mint julep.”