How did you become a tour operator?
I was inspired to become a food tour operator when I was the PR Director at a luxury hotel chain here in Toronto. As part of my job I would dream up culinary-themed packages and tours for our guests and it was then that I realized there weren’t really any food tour companies in the city. Also, I love to do food tours when I travel and wanted to bring that experience to Toronto. I built my business plan and rolled it out slowly in 2009.
What’s your most popular tour?
Our most popular tour, without a doubt, is the Chocolate & Cheese Crawl. For three hours, guests indulge in a number of tastings that involve either chocolate or cheese. The stroll takes place in two neighbourhoods—West Queen West and King West. Stops include a tea boutique, a Parisian patisserie, a cupcake shop, a poutinerie, a gourmet cheese restaurant and an artisan chocolatemaker.
How has the city’s culinary scene evolved since you began your tours?
Toronto’s culinary scene is on fire right now! Not only have a few other food tour companies popped up since I began Chowbella, but there’s also a distinct artisan movement—from weekly farmers’ markets in nearly every neighbourhood to local chefs living their dreams and opening up exciting restaurants.
Your Toronto tours mainly stick to the Queen and King West neighbourhoods. Is there any particular reason why you focus on those areas?
There are two reasons: One, it’s my favourite part of town and I really want people to experience it the way I do; and two, it’s constantly evolving so there are always new places to explore. West Queen West alone has over 80 establishments focused on food, and it seems like every time I walk down the street, there are new places popping up.
Would you ever consider expanding to other parts of the city?
Absolutely and we’ve done so in the past. In Chowbella’s first year we offered a tour in Little India. We’ve also offered tours at the Evergreen Brickworks and in Liberty Village. The most popular tours have always been in the Queen West area, so for this touring seaso, we’ve decided to offer these two public tours and execute them perfectly. I should also note that we’ve done many private tours in different parts of town and will continue to craft custom experiences for our clients.
Is there anything about Toronto’s food scene that your clients typically find surprising, unexpected or unusual?
The one comment I hear over and over again, from both locals and visitors, is that they had no idea Toronto had so many fabulous places to explore food. I’ve also heard from Torontonians specifically that they’ve walked by these places so many times and never knew which ones to go in to or how great they were. That’s one of the best parts of my job—introducing people to new places and giving them memorable experiences.
I understand you also offer excursions to other food and wine destinations in Ontario. What might a “typical” itinerary look like for one of those tours?
These excursions are custom-built to our clients’ specifications so there really isn’t a “typical” itinerary. Past getaways have included fun experiences like cheese making, candy making, grape stomping, private cooking classes, interaction with farmers and chefs, etc. We love to come up fun and inventive ways for our individual clients to experience other culinary destinations in southern Ontario.
What question are you asked most often by your clients?
The question I get asked most is, “What’s your favourite restaurant in the city?” I never have a direct answer because I have many favourites. It depend on the mood I’m in, what kind of cuisine I feel like, budget, etc.
What can a person do to ensure they get the most out of their ChowBella experience?
We’re all about creating memorable experiences so the best thing a person can do is have an open mind to trying new things.
If you could go on a tour that focused on an aspect of Toronto that you wish you knew more about, what would that tour be?
I would love to go on an architectural of Toronto because it varies so much from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. For instance, on the Chocolate & Cheese Crawl, we explore Queen West and King West, and the difference in architecture is very obvious. I’d love to know how it can vary so much in just a few blocks.
• Chowbella, 647-403-8030; chowbella.ca