PETOSKEY — History and food — but not just the history of food.
Michigan Food Tours provides an experience that’s a nice mix of both, founder-owner Mary Grace Otis said. The three-hour, guided, afternoon tours currently are held in Petoskey and Charlevoix, but Otis is looking to bring one to Traverse City by September.
“It’s a historical tour, so we tell you about the background of the town, some of the architecture history, stories about restaurants, food and where the food comes from,” Otis said.
Groups of two- to 14 participants stop at six restaurants to sample a curated menu, by the end of which a substantial lunch has been had, she said.
The tours were a natural fit for Fustini’s, since they do tastings every day, said Charlene Hunt, manager of the Petoskey store.
Fustini’s is an oil and vinegar tasting room, bottling shop and school of cooking with a focus on high-quality extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It has stores in Petoskey, Ann Arbor, Holland and Traverse City.
What’s provided during the tour depends on what’s being featured and made that day, Hunt said. Normally there’s a special bite-sized appetizer such as a crostini with pantry items and fresh vegetables or herbs, she said.
“For us, it’s more exposure,” said Hunt, when asked why the store participates. “People who have been reluctant to stop in because they don’t know what we are can come in without feeling pressured to buy anything.”
The tours are great for small wedding parties, family reunions, corporate events or just people wanting to try something new, Otis said. People can sign up to take part individually or call ahead to arrange a private group tour, she said.
“It’s nice because in between stops you get to walk and see the city and then get a little break,” Otis said. “It’s good for all ages.”
Otis, who has lived in Charlevoix for 12 years, opened Michigan Food Tours at the end of June. Having traveled around the world and lived in India and Germany, she said she loves trying different types of cuisine.
“Michigan is such a wonderful place for fresh, local ingredients and has some new, innovative restaurants as well as traditional, standard fare,” she said. “I said, ‘Other cities have this, why don’t we?’ Even though we’re smaller, we have a great opportunity to share.”
Otis hasn’t quite narrowed down the stops for the Traverse City tour yet, but she has some ideas she’s keeping close the vest. She’s also looking to hire tour guides for the area, she said.
What’s she looking for in a restaurant? History, within walking distance of downtown and “an amazing bite of food,” she said.
“(My) qualifications, really, is something that tastes delicious,” Otis said.
She’s also looking to start a happy hour tour in Petoskey soon, which will include wine or beer pairings with appetizers — that likely will be a two-hour tour.
“We really want to give not only guests, but also locals, the opportunity to eat at a lot of different restaurants and support the local food and restaurant community,” Otis said.
Food tours are $59 per person. Otis said she’s working on adding a children’s price.
“Michigan is such a wonderful place for fresh, local ingredients and has some new, innovative restaurants as well as traditional, standard fare. I said, ‘Other cities have this, why don’t we?’ Even though we’re smaller, we have a great opportunity to share.” Mary Grace Otis, founder and owner