Teacher, Entrepreneur, Hopeless Romantic

Meet B.J. Bliss ’99.             

By Emily Hopkins

B.J. Bliss ’99 used to tend bar for the local lake cruise ship in Ithaca. One day, on a whim, he asked the cruise company owner, “How much to take this off your hands?” The answer would have been daunting to most recent grads: a quarter million.

“I was 22,” says B.J. “No bank wanted anything to do with me.”

Luckily, the owner was willing to finance the purchase, and now, 10 years later, B.J. presides over Cayuga Lake Cruises and its fleet of two boats, which offers meals and sightseeing cruises. The older of the two boats, the MV Manhattan, ferried immigrants from Ellis Island to New York City in the 1900s.

In 2010, B.J. turned his cruise catering facility into a novelty wine bar, Corks & More, which features high-tech, automated wine dispensers that let guests buy a taste, half glass, or full glass at a time. Set in a lounge atmosphere the bar has a minimum of 40 different wines available nightly, from the affordable to the exceptionally pricey. “It’s going better than I ever dreamed,” B.J. admits. Plans are under way for several more Corks & More locations and eventually a franchise.

In addition to his gangbuster hospitality businesses, B.J. is also the physical education teacher at South Hill Elementary School, where he met his wife, Liz, a special education teacher. The principal prompted B.J. to ask her out.

One day, B.J. went to the matchmaking principal and said, “I’d like to ask her to marry me in front of her family or mine, but since that’s not possible, I want to ask her in front of our other family: the school.”

A special assembly was arranged, and subterfuge was employed. The principal read a poem, then asked B.J. and Liz to each read one, too. In the middle of his recitation, B.J. got down on bended knee and took Liz’s hand. The last line of his poem: “What are you doing for the rest of my life?”

“I had kids crying,” B.J. remembers with a laugh. “Fourth and fifth graders still talk about it.”

Liz said yes. B.J. and Liz continue to live in Ithaca with their daughter, Sage.