Helping to power downtown Sacramento’s rebirth, one pedal at a time

Sacramento State alum Todd Sebastian, left, and Jason Blessinger are the co-founders of Off the Chain Bike Bus Tours in downtown Sacramento.

There are a lot of new things to see if you head to Sacramento’s downtown these days, from the Golden 1 Center to the Downtown Commons. But Sacramento State alum Todd Sebastian’s contribution may be the most unique – and the one that does the most to tie it all together.

Sebastian ’00 (Recreation) is the co-founder of Off the Chain Bike Bus Tours, which provides tours of downtown on a 15-passenger bus that is powered, via pedal, by riders. Equipped with lights, a sound system, and, yes, a cooler and on-board tap system, the vehicle allows visitors to experience Sacramento’s growing downtown in a slightly offbeat way.

OTC CapThe company’s core mission, according to Sebastian, is “fun” – his official title is “Foreman of Festivities” and his co-founder, Jason Blessinger, is the “Godfather of Good Times.” They rent out the bike for everything from food and beer tastings to corporate trainings to kids’ birthday parties. By offering the tours, and by partnering with dozens of downtown restaurants, bars and other venues, Off the Chain is introducing people to Sacramento’s reborn downtown district.

“I can’t tell you how many people come down here and they go, ‘Oh my god, I haven’t been down here in five years, I can’t believe all the changes,’” Sebastian says. “We hear that every single ride.”

A native of Elk Grove, Sebastian transferred to Sacramento State from Cosumnes River College in part because it was local and affordable, but also because he knew attending would allow him to network and make contacts that would be helpful when he set down roots in the region.

“(Sac State) made me focus, it made me quickly recognize what I loved,” he says. “It gave me a sense of pride with the campus and the community. I still hold Sac State very fondly in my heart.” He doesn’t have to look very far to be reminded of his time as a Hornet: Three of Off the Chain’s five employees are fellow alums.

After graduation, Sebastian worked for the Fair Oaks Parks and Recreation District, and even returned briefly to Sacramento State to work at The WELL and teach some recreation courses. Then, Blessinger approached him with one of his trademark crazy ideas that Sebastian was used to writing off. This time, however, he instantly fell in love with the concept.

The pair were able to pitch their idea as part of the Calling All Dreamers program, an entrepreneurship competition put on by the Sacramento Downtown Partnership, where they finished second. That didn’t net them prize money, but it did give them credibility around town – including with the Small Business Association and the City of Sacramento – and helped them secure a loan.

OTC Brown
Governor Jerry Brown signed the law permitting the bike buses to operate on city streets while riding in one of Off the Chain’s buses.

Even with start-up money and the support of local movers and shakers secured, however, a major obstacle remained: The bike wasn’t technically legal. Sebastian met with lawmakers and over the course of a year secured a change in state law that classified the bikes as “pedi-cabs” and allowed open alcohol containers so long as the vehicle remained under a certain speed and was staffed by both a dedicated driver and a “chauffer” with a bartending certification. Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill while riding the bike with his staff.

“That was hands-down the coolest thing I have accomplished in my career,” Sebastian says.

Although bike buses sometimes come with a reputation of being “booze cruises,” Sebastian says they have worked hard to make sure that the bike, not alcohol, is the primary experience. While on the tour, riders can partake in activities such as on-board trivia or karaoke, or participate in Survivor– and Amazing Race-like challenges, which are popular with corporate team-building events.

The two also have worked hard to ensure their presence downtown is positive. The bikes have electric assist technology to make pedaling more enjoyable for passengers, but also to make sure the bikes can be moved quickly in the event of an emergency or the street needs to be cleared. They plot routes that are minimally disruptive to traffic. And they partner with 45 downtown venues, often reaching out proactively to make sure their riders won’t disrupt a restaurant or bar’s normal business. Sebastian often hears back from partners who say bike bus riders liked the venue so much that they came back.

“For us, it might be a long day, we have four tours, and we’re sweating, but at the end of the day, we went to 12 different venues, they all made money, but most importantly you have 65, 70 people leaving with great memories and laughing the whole time,” he says. “That’s the cool thing at the end of the day, when you know you gave those people a good time.”

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Hornet to take reins at one of the West’s biggest banks

Talk about capital gains: This week, The Sacramento Bee reported that Hornet alumnus Cort O’Haver will be taking over the top jobs at Umpqua Holdings Corp. – one of the biggest financial institutions on the West Coast with more than 350 branches – in January 2017.

In the biggest move of his career, O’Haver will take over as the organization’s president and CEO, as well as chair of its Board of Directors.

The former Sac State English major and current president of Umpqua Bank, O’Haver (’86, English) got into finance relatively late.

Once he did, he never looked back.

O’Haver excelled in banking school before moving into various management positions throughout Northern California.

Next January, he takes over an institution that has seen unprecedented growth in the past two decades. Check out this week’s story in The Sacramento Bee below for an in-depth look at Cort’s journey through the world of finance:

Sacramento State alum will take over top Umpqua Bank posts in 2017 – The Sacramento Bee

In the Mouse House: “Made” mogul serves up sushi at Shanghai Disneyland

Alan Wong in Hatsune Sushi in Hong Kong
Chef and restaurateur Alan Wong (’00, Philosophy) opened his latest location of Hatsune Sushi on June 16 at the brand-new Shanghai Disneyland. (Photo courtesy of Alan Wong)

For millions of Disney fans around the world, the long wait is over: Shanghai Disneyland has officially opened! And for Made at Sac State restaurateur Alan Wong, that means bringing a taste of California to more diners from around the world.

Over the past 15 years, Wong (’00, Philosophy) has built a culinary empire consisting of 13 restaurants across Beijing and Shanghai that have effectively cornered the local market on California-style sushi, characterized by its use of sauces and non-traditional ingredients like avocado and crab.

Wong’s restaurants, called Hatsune Sushi, took off – of the 9,199 Beijing restaurants listed on Tripadvisor, Hatsune Sushi ranked 48th in June 2016 – and Disney took notice.

For Wong, a self-described Disney buff who says he can sing most Disney movie songs, it was a dream come true to have the opportunity to open a restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. On June 16, that dream became a reality with the opening of Shanghai Disneyland, which at nearly 1,000 acres and a cost of more than $5.5 billion is the second-largest of all the Disney parks.

Made at Sac State caught up with Wong the last time he was stateside – check out his Made feature and video to see more of his culinary craft, find out what Disney character he’d be, and more.