Phil Lapp was with his daughter Morgan when he spotted a group of people at the Lampeter Turkey Hill Minit Market who looked a little lost.
Four people were huddled together reading a map on Memorial Day weekend 2017. Lapp, a lifelong Lancaster resident, introduced himself to the weary travelers, who didn’t speak much English.
They were from Norway and told Lapp about their plans to take some traditional tours in Lancaster the next day. Since he had off for the holiday, he offered to meet up with the family the following day and lead them on what he thought was a more authentic view of Lancaster County. They agreed and, in turn, invited Lapp to visit them in Norway.
A few months later, he booked the flight.
The newfound friendship served as the inspiration for LoKal, an experience company Lapp founded last year with his wife, Annamarie, and friends Mike and A.J. Simmons.
“As I was over there, I said, ‘You know, what they’re doing for us and what we did for them is something we should think about, being more intentional about moving forward,’ ” Lapp says.
LoKal hopes its experiences will appeal to those visiting Lancaster, locals looking for something fun to do and to those planning corporate events. Its events include brewery tours, a morning dance party and a two-hour nature walk. LoKal – pronounced “lou-call”–is the Norwegian word for “local.”
On Saturday, LoKal will host “The ‘Witness’ Experience,” which includes a screening of the 1985 film at Zoetropolis, including behind-the-scenes footage and a tour of the Strasburg farm where some scenes were filmed. The farm tour will conclude with a buffet-style dinner of Amish foods, and the Amish family that now lives on the farm will offer goods for sale. The entire experience is about four hours long, Lapp says.
Activities branded as “experiences” have become a larger part of the tourism industry in recent years. Airbnb, a lodging and travel booking site, launched the Experiences arm of its platform in 2016. It describes these as activities designed and led by local experts.
Demand is clearly there, as a press release from the company noted that experience bookings grew 2500% in 2017. The growth continued in following years, with AirBnb selling 7 times as many experiences in 2018 as in 2017, Skift.com reports. TripAdvisor has since launched its own experience platform, too.
In June 2018, Lapp and Mike Simmons began offering experiences as individuals on Airbnb. The positive feedback was near immediate.
“We kind of went, ‘Hey, this has some legs as an actual local platform,’ ” Simmons says. “ ‘Let’s create it.’ ”
LoKal officially formed in December.
“There’s a lot of information in some of these that are not widely known or known by very many people at all, so we spend a lot of time putting these together so we can offer that kind of value,” Simmons says of LoKal’s events.
Prior to beginning LoKal, Lapp worked in sales and marketing at Auntie Anne’s and cofounded vegetarian food line Neat Foods, and Simmons owned a bakery in Strasburg.
Planning the “Witness” event began through Lapp’s own personal connection to the movie. He grew up on the farm next to the one that served as a backdrop in the movie. His father, billed as one of “The Lapps” in the credits, is visible in a handful of scenes.
Lapp was 6 when the movie filmed in Lancaster — a detail he remembers clearly because he had to be 7 to be considered for an extra role in the movie. Because he missed the cutoff, he was relegated to behind-the-scenes work.
One of those jobs was to play with Lukas Haas, the then-8-year-old actor who played an Amish boy with a pivotal role in the film’s plot.
“We would play cards continuously,” Lapp says. “I just have really fond memories from hanging out with him.”
Simmons had his own unusual connection to the movie.
“One of my best friends in college happened to land the job of being Harrison Ford’s driver when he was here,” Simmons says. “We were all a little bit jealous.”
The “Witness” event begins with the screening at Zoetropolis, as well as a short game quizzing attendees on what they saw in the movie. From there, attendees will transport themselves to the farm in Strasburg, which is about a 20-minute drive. The exact location will be revealed to attendees directly, Lapp says.
Then, attendees will have about two hours to enjoy the meal and the sights of the farm.
“It’s going to be a great afternoon,” Lapp says.