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Dining with a difference

Food-tour business offers guests a taste of Madison — with a twist.

Food is business for Brittany Hammer, owner of Capital City Food Tours, here at DLUX in downtown Madison.

Food is business for Brittany Hammer, owner of Capital City Food Tours, here at DLUX in downtown Madison.

Photo by M.O.D. Media Productions

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From the pages of In Business magazine.

There is an intentional flaw on the exterior of the State Capitol building in Madison that supposedly was created, “because only God can create perfection,” according to Brittany Hammer, 26, a Verona native and owner of Capital City Food Tours. It is just one interesting tidbit she imparts while leading groups of people on walking food tours around the city. She’ll offer hints as to the flaw’s whereabouts and if guests don’t spot it, she’ll eventually share the secret.

Then there’s the “Rennie’s” story that longtime Madisonians may recall. During the era of the prolific Rennebohm Drug Store chain in Madison, locals nicknamed the golden Forward statue at the top of the Capitol “Mrs. Rennebohm,” and she was rumored to be pointing in the direction of the next Rennebohm location. Hammer enjoyed discovering that historical nugget, as well.

Capital City Food Tours takes guests on food tours of iconic Madison restaurants, adding historical, architectural, or general facts along the way. “I never realized that I would enjoy history so much,” Hammer laughs.

While food or beer tours are not unique to Madison — some have survived while others, like Hop Head Tours, have not — Hammer remains undeterred.

“Our goal is to share facts and to build an emotional connection between food, location, and people. It is more than just Madison history, it is truly telling the stories of business owners in Madison.”

It’s also a far cry from Hammer’s original desire to become a pastry chef and bakery owner. Unfortunately, that dream was cut short by a ligament injury to her dominant hand, leading her to pursue a degree in hotel, restaurant, and tourism management at UW–Stout.

Eventually she moved back to Madison to work with Bloomin’ Brands [Outback, Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill, Fleming’s). One day, while on a month-long assignment in Chicago, she experienced her first food tour.

“I was blown away,” she recalls. “All I could think about was doing something similar in Madison.”

In the summer of 2015, Hammer pursued her idea in earnest. She attended a three-day food tour business course offered by a Chicago company and saved like crazy while working as a server at Mickies Dairy Bar back home.

“I came full circle,” Hammer notes. She’d worked for Mickies in high school and maintained a good relationship with the owners. Things fell into place.

With about $10,000 in startup costs, Capital City Food Tours launched in April 2016. Since then, Hammer has led nearly 700 guests on more than 110 walking tours. Each lasts about three hours and customers visit five restaurants, spending about a half-hour in each. There is no minimum number of customers required to book, but she does limit her group to a very manageable eight people.

Guests know in advance which restaurants they will visit but the menu is arranged in advance and remains a secret. “That’s the element of surprise,” she acknowledges. Chefs, in turn, know when the group will arrive, seating is reserved, and service is quick. Walking distances between restaurants are kept to under a half-mile long.

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