New face at the helm of Adelaide’s historic Popeye

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By Melissa Keogh

Adelaide’s renowned Popeye river cruise business is taking a new lease on life.

The Popeye, which has entertained thousands of locals, tourists and even royalty over the past 83 years, is being handed to the next generation.

Owner Tony Shuman has owned The Popeye since 2011 and is now handing operations to his daughter Bianca, 23, who is injecting “refreshed energy” into the business as its new managing director.

The Popeye managing director Bianca Shuman unveils the brand’s new logo.

“Bianca is the new generation, she has new and hip ideas, a fresh feel and I can’t compete with that,” says Tony.

“It’s her turn, she’s got the smarts.”

The Popeye fleet includes three boats that take passengers along the River Torrens between Elder Park and Adelaide Zoo, and has long been considered a treasured family outing for many South Australians.

The boats also host functions, parties and high teas put on by fellow SA business, Lady Green’s High Tea.

Bianca says she hopes to introduce new stops along the river, including near the weir and Adelaide Oval to make the most of crowds attending AFL games and major concerts.

A stop is also in the works at The Popeye shed and Lounders Boatshed Café near Victoria Drive.

Approval is being sought for a permanent liquor licence while an online booking system has also been introduced.

Tony Shuman, left, has owned the small business since 2011 but plans to head into retirement.

A new logo and branding concept was inspired by the “art deco” style of the 1930s, when The Popeye was launched in Adelaide.

“The whole feeling with the new logo was keeping it modern but also going back to the start in the 1930s,” Bianca says.

“We would like to have that reflected in the style of our staff uniforms as well. To dress up a bit would be nice.”

Bianca says that while The Popeye has become an Adelaide icon, she wants to see more people on board.

“The Popeye, it’s very Adelaide and people almost don’t notice it because they’re so used to it going past every day. It would be great to get more people on,” she says.

“It’s about half tourists, half locals on board at the moment. During school holidays there’s a lot of kids and young families, and grandparents taking grandkids to the zoo.”

Zoos SA CEO and I Choose SA ambassador Elaine Bensted, left, with Bianca Shuman and her mother Lidija.

Tony Shuman and his wife Lidija have also run the paddle boats (small watercraft propelled by foot pedals) along the river since 1991.

He says past customers have included Madonna, Michael Bublé, English comedian Russell Brand and international tennis champions.

Over the years Tony says he has faced many business challenges as new infrastructure around the riverbank precinct takes shape.

However, he says the CBD’s growing population means more people are out and about.

“There are more people living in the city, the city itself has had real population growth over the last 20 years,” Tony says.

“It’s more of a university city as well – younger people out there doing things.”

The Popeye cruises along the river in March 1954. PHOTO: State Library of SA, B 74433/78.

Popeye 1 was launched on the River Torrens in 1935 by Gordon Watts.

Popeye 2 came along in 1948 and three new jarrah hulled boats were introduced some time later, taking the fleet to a total of five.

Keith Altman took over the business in 1962 and also introduced the paddle boats to the river.

Popeye 5 hosted Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip during their visit to Adelaide in 1977. PHOTO: thepopeye.com.au

In March 1977, The Popeye had a brush with royalty when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip took a trip during a visit to Adelaide.

In 1982 the wooden boats were replaced with three new fibreglass models and officially launched by then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

The Popeye, which was officially declared an official State Heritage Icon in 2011, employs 14 people.

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