Feast on your feet
Madison is a great city for walking. It’s also a great city for eating. Put the two together and you’ve got Capital City Food Tours, a new business that’s kicking off its inaugural season around town this spring.
The brainchild of Brittany Hammer, Capital City Food Tours offers participants a three-hour experience of walking to five different restaurants downtown, sampling their signature items, and learning about local history and architecture along the way.
“Essentially, we eat our way through Madison and support local restaurants,” says Hammer.
Tours are available Wednesday through Sunday beginning at 11:30 a.m. The tours will operate from April through November, rain or shine, and up to 12 people can participate at a time.
Hammer notes the Around the Square Tour will always feature the same five restaurants because she believes it’s important to build a relationship with vendors where they reap the benefits of the tours.
“They have put their support behind my business and I want to honor that by bringing people to their restaurants,” she explains. “Also, there is a lot of prep work that goes into researching the restaurants and developing a script for the tour guide, as well as coordinating the logistics with staff and management at the restaurants.”
While the Around the Square Tour is consistently the same, Hammer says plans for growth are already in the works. She’s looking at developing another tour on the Monroe Street and Regent Street area and eventually would like to highlight some of the suburbs around Madison on a monthly feature tour. “We definitely realize that if people have fun they are going to want to come back but experience something new, so we are in the process of making that happen.”
Hammer also notes that the tours aren’t specifically geared toward out-of-towners. She says while a majority of people who have already taken the tour might have previously gone to a few of the restaurants that the tour stops at, they sampled food that they’ve never ordered on their own and they loved it. “I think no matter where you are from it is a great way to get out for an afternoon and support local businesses.”
Cupcakes over health care
A Madison native, Hammer says she’s worked in some part of the food industry since her first job as a 16-year-old. The fast-paced atmosphere and serving people always brought her joy. However, when she first set out to attend college in Arizona she planned to study nursing.
“After about a week of classes, all I really wanted to do was stay in my dorm and bake cupcakes,” she says. “That was when I knew that I needed to make a change.”
Hammer moved back to Wisconsin and attended UW–Stout, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in hotel, restaurant, and tourism management.
While Hammer was working as a restaurant manager in Chicago one of her friends mentioned a walking food tour where participants get to see a specific neighborhood and eat at multiple places. “It was just the kind of thing I love to do,” she notes. “I took the tour and all I could think about was how great something like this would go over in Madison.”
At just 24 years old though, Hammer says starting her own business has at times been a daunting task.
Her first big challenge was leaving a safe, full-time job in order to take a leap of faith into the unknown, hoping that with a lot of hard work and time opening Capital City Food Tours would be worth it.
“Another great challenge that I faced, which happened more at the very beginning of this process, was building a relationship with restaurants,” Hammer explains. “When I would tell them that I wanted to bring people to their establishment, buy their food, and then talk about how great they were, I often got the question, ‘What’s the catch?’ There really is no catch, all I ask is that our group is given great service and the food tastes amazing.”
Hammer admits that walking food tours are such a new concept in the tourism and food industries that a lot of people don’t quite understand what she’s doing. “But once they take one of our tours everything clicks and it’s a really fulfilling experience.”
What to expect
So, what are participants in for when they take a walking food tour?
Hammer says you can expect to eat a lot of food, so have a light breakfast earlier in the day and then pace yourself at each tasting location. Participants can also expect to learn something new.
“We talk about different architectural points and unique things in Madison and my goal is that every participant hears at least one new fact at every place we stop,” she explains. “Our talking points are meant to make you laugh or say, ‘Wow,’ because we want you to enjoy yourself and spend the afternoon making memories in Madison.”
Hammer adds that because the tours take place outdoors and require a walk of close to 1.5 miles over the course of three hours, participants should prepare for whatever crazy Wisconsin weather they may encounter. Comfortable shoes are a must, too!
Tickets for Capital City Food Tours are sold online at www.capitalcityfoodtours.com or by calling (866) 736-6343. Private group tours requiring a minimum of six people are also available and private tour guests can receive a 15% discount.
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