Columbus Food Adventures highlights the best cuisine the city has to offer

Columbus Food Adventures last week announced that, in partnership with the Columbus Historical Society, the city’s first food tour company will put on an event spotlighting local restaurants that have stood the test of time.

Pizza, Prime Rib, Pot Stickers, and Pink Champagne –a tour of The Top Steakhouse, TAT Ristorante di Famiglia, Wings, and Johnson’s Real Ice Cream– is scheduled for May 24 from 6 to  9 p.m and will be the first installment in a historical tour series.

“The TAT restaurant is reputedly the first restaurant in Columbus to serve pizza, so we’ll have that there, pot stickers at Wing’s, and prime rib at The Top Steakhouse,” says Bethia Woolf, founder of Columbus Food Adventures. “We will be starting with a reception at the Columbus Historical Society and that’s where the pink champagne will come in.”

After hearing about Columbus Food Adventures tours, Jeff Lafever, director of the Columbus Historical Society, suggested a collaboration.

“CHS was interested in expanding on their range of tours and reaching a different audience,” Woolf says. “Jeff’s also an avid foodie, which made the collaboration both natural and a pleasure for us.”

Other tours in the series may include visits to German Village and Franklinton, she says.

“With Columbus’s bicentenary approaching, it seems fitting to reflect both on how the city has changed as well as showing due respect for of our beloved institutions that have stood the test of time,” she says. “We expect the historic restaurant tour will be a delicious way to facilitate both.”

We recently sat down with Woolf to learn more about Columbus Food Adventures (which has given about 200 tours since its launch in July 2010), including which local businesspeople helped her get it off the ground, how she generated awareness about a business model with no precedent in Ohio, and who she’d like to take on future tours.

The Metropreneur: Obviously an appreciation for tasty food was a motivating factor behind starting Columbus Food Adventures. But did the business come about as your blogs became more popular and you saw the potential for success or did you know you wanted to start this particular business even before you started blogging?

Bethia Woolf: The blogging definitely came first and it definitely provided a good part of the motivation for starting the business. After we saw the public enthusiasm for TacoTrucksColumbus.com and taco trucks more generally, we organized some informal self-guided tours of several of the trucks and publicized them through our website and other social media outlets. The last one we ran was on a rainy Ohio State football game Saturday and we had around 200 people show up for it!

After starting alt.eats.columbus, we started taking some people in the press around on informal tours of various ethnic restaurants we had been excited about. Invariably, the participants were enthusiastic and most were utterly surprised that these places existed.

Those experiences led us to believe that there might be sufficient demand for food tours and the pleasure we got from taking people to such places led us to believe –correctly, as it turns out– that we’d enjoy conducting the tours. We also realized we had accumulated quite a bit of unique knowledge of the businesses and their cuisines, and had generated good relationships with them as well.

[M]: When you were getting your business off the ground, what resources –books, websites, organizations, etc.− were the most helpful?

BW: Probably the most useful resources were the websites of other food tour businesses. There weren’t any food tour businesses in Ohio when we started up, so we traveled to Chicago to experience a couple of them there. At that point, we felt confident in starting a tour business ourselves.

[M]: Did your turn to any local mentors, role models, or advisors for advice and input?

BW: Oh, absolutely and I should probably apologize ahead of time because I know I’m going to miss someone. That said, the people who’ve been invaluable to us with their time and advice include: Liz Lessner of Betty’s Family of Restaurants; Ryan Morgan; Joe Vargo of the Ohio Department of Development; Kari Kauffman of Experience Columbus; Mary Martineau of North Market; Nancy Stoll of the Small Business Development Center; Bob Leighty of The Economic and Community Development Institute; Timothy Wolf Starr of Small Business Beanstalk; Beth Ervin of Experience Columbus; Mark Swanson and Gail Baker of the Central Ohio Restaurant Association; Diesha Condon of the Short North Business Association; Walker Evans; Katharine Moore of Dine Originals; Alex Kelley of Alexandra 477; Jim Ellison of CMHGourmand.com; and Mike Beaumont.

[M]: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a business owner and how did you overcome it?

BW: The biggest challenge has probably been generating awareness for a business model that had no precedent within the state. There was definitely a need to educate people about what to expect from a food tour. There were so many different options for getting the word out, but our possibilities were limited by what we were able to spend– not much! To that end, we addressed the challenge by focusing our efforts on low-cost endeavors, such as PR– circulating a press release proved to be exceptionally effective; working on refining SEO; gaining visibility by supporting local events; and working closely with Experience Columbus.

[M]: What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of being a business owner?

BW: Let me address this with an anecdote. On our taco truck tour last week, one of our participants was a gentleman who had moved to Columbus from Mumbai, India about five years ago. He pulled me aside and said, “This is the most fun I’ve had eating in Columbus the entire time I’ve been here!”

We’ve clearly always been big advocates for the quality of the food scene in Columbus, put a lot of effort into making sure that the tour stops represent the best of what the city has to offer, and absolutely love hearing that kind of feedback! We also love it when we’re on a tour and see, or hear about, participants from past tours returning to our partner restaurants.

[M]: What would you like to accomplish professionally in the year ahead?

BW: Our goals include continued expansion of the business and a push to increase corporate group tours, including tours for team building, recruitment, entertainment of out of town visitors, and employee rewards. We’re also working on the development of a few new tours. There are so many great possibilities and it’s surprisingly tough to decide which ideas we should take on next!

[M]: Is there anything else you think we should know?

BW: Insofar as our website is our “storefront,” we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to us. To that end, we hired Fulcrum Creatives to design and code it, and have been very pleased with its performance. It was especially critical that we were able to edit information on it easily, and Fulcrum worked with us to make sure that was possible and used a format −Wordpress− that we were familiar with from our blogs.

We also want to note that there is a strong business-to-business component of our operation. Our relationships with our restaurant partners are extremely important to us and we’ve been gratified to hear that so many of them have found the experience to be worthwhile. Columbus Food Adventures couldn’t exist if there weren’t so many great food experiences in our city. We’re proud of the city’s interesting and diverse culinary landscape.

To learn more about Columbus Food Adventures, visit ColumbusFoodAdventures.com.

Photo Credits: Bethia Woolf photo (top) by Kate Djupe, van photo (middle) by Mike Beaumont, and North Market photo (bottom) by Kristen Stevens.