Food tours have evolved to become one of the most popular tourism attractions in cities around the world. And even in small towns, food tours of charming cafes and coffee shops draw a crowd.
Starting today, the culinary curious in Naples and the surrounding area will be able to sample a little taste of as many as seven or eight restaurants in a day just like its more urban cousins. Enter Naples Food Tours, founded by Elaine Osbond, a self-professed foodie and former owner of Brambles Tea Room in downtown Naples.
"I got the idea to do this from going on food tours myself in other cities, which most cities of any size do," said Osbond. "We did one in Québec earlier this year which was educational and informative, and as a foodie, I just love to find new foods and new places to eat, especially food stores and restaurants that you might not find as a tourist or visitor."
Many city food tours are walking tours, especially in places like Milwaukee, where cheese shops rival wine bars in popularity and the city's vibrant selection of German and other authentic restaurants avail multiple daily food tours within the city limits. In Naples, the restaurants that dot this landscape are more spread out, so up to 14 tour guests will ride on the air-conditioned mini-bus Osbond purchased.
Osbond is also offering custom food tours for wedding parties and other events. However, she is quick to point out that Naples Food Tours is for year-round locals, seasonal residents and tourists.
"This tour isn't intended just for visitors, but also for locals," Osbond said. "We used to own Brambles Tea Room and, because of its location down a little alleyway, we always had people coming in saying they lived in Naples for years and never knew it was here," says Osbond, who did a dress rehearsal tour over the holidays, which included visiting places that people on the tour said they never knew about.
Osbond has signed several local restaurants to the tour schedule, including Bamboo Café, Naples Olive Oil Co., Norman Love, Alexander's, Simply Southern BBQ, Old World Market, Peace Love and Little Donuts, Randy's Fishmarket, Brambles Tearoom, Jacquie's Jamming, Radical Rations, IM Tapas and Sassy Cakes. At press time, numerous others are in the works for Osbond.
The tours will run three days a week to start and will each take about three hours to complete. Each tour is scheduled from 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. during the least busy hours of a restaurant. The guided tour will feature stops at seven or eight venues for light tastings and a special chat with proprietors or chefs. Tour participants will have the opportunity to learn about local customs and how dishes are prepared. Osbond will customize itineraries to cover a variety of Naples neighborhoods, for special occasions and custom tours.
On Saturdays mornings, Osbond will offer shorter two-hour tours of Third Street South Farmer's Market and North Naples Farmer's Market with a stop for a short tasting at one of the area food stores, such as a specialty bakery or chocolatier like Norman Love. That tour will take place between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. before most restaurants become busy for lunch.
Here's how it works. Once a tour participant books his ticket, Osbond reveals the location meeting place adjacent to Cambier Park and the time to board the bus. At the end of the tour, participants will return to the original meeting place, where their vehicle awaits.
"What I see is that over the 18 years I've been here, the demographic has really changed, so I plan to mix it up so each tour is not always the same itinerary," Osbond said. "Yes, I'd like to see food trucks and more ethnic restaurants and all the things you read about in big cities here, but for a place the size of Naples, we're doing really well."
Osbond, as a food-centered business owner, says she plans to donate a percentage of the Naples Food Tours profits to local charities helping those in need.
In setting up Naples Food Tours, Osbond says she's found that restaurants and vendors either get it or they don't.
"To bring in new customers three times a week during the off hours when restaurants aren't as busy is a great thing for restaurants," says Osbond, who has placed rack cards throughout town and says Naples Food Tours is a great marketing tool for restaurants.
Osbond says working with the area concierges is hugely important to her, as well as the many neighborhood associations, corporate and community organizations, families and charities who could utilize the tours for a variety of outings.
"If there is demand, I'll do more tours," she said.
For restaurants interested in becoming a tour stop or people interested in booking tickets, call 239-200-7992 or go to www.NaplesFoodTours.com.