ST. PAUL (WCCO) — In 2009, three days before Christmas, Hobbit Travel shut its doors. Owner George Wozniak had been well-known for bringing travel deals to the masses.
The I-TEAM discovered that Wozniak had checked in for treatment at “The Retreat” in Wayzata on Dec. 1 of that year. Wozniak has fought with an addiction to alcohol and pain medications off and on over the years.
While he was in treatment, his agency went under. More than 80 people lost their jobs.
“Surprisingly, we closed,” said Theresa Williams.
“Heartbreaking,” recalled Andrea Wallace. “It really was heartbreaking.”
Wallace didn’t let the heartbreak hold her down. She started talking to Williams and Williams’ sister, Maria.
“I told her, ‘No,’ several times,” said Anderson, a mother of four.
All three women had been managers at Hobbit Travel. That’s where they mastered the craft of putting together discount travel packages.
“We’d search out the lowest airfare, we’d search out the lowest hotel, and then we’d package that together,” said Wallace. “We definitely did a lot of hunt-and-pecking in our daily jobs at Hobbit, so we thought if we could continue to bring that to this company, we had to be successful.”
“We decided, ‘What the heck, let’s give it a shot,'” said Williams.
Six months in, it’s going well. They’ve hired seven agents — friends from Hobbit — who work from home.
“They can log on, they can log off. We don’t have to micromanage them,” said Anderson. “They know their job and they do it well.”
That professional expertise is what Midwest Travel is selling. They say people are ready to buy.
“People are willing to pay the service fee because they feel that there is a lot of value in that,” said Williams. “If you’re taking your family on spring break and it’s $5,000 and you’re paying a $20 fee, people are thinking that makes a lot of sense.”
None of the three Midwest Travel Service owners have had any contact with Wozniak since the fall of Hobbit Travel.
The partners plan to bring two more agents on board next month.
Paula Engelking, Producer
WCCO-TV’s Frank Vascellaro Reports