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Q & A with the Director of Taste of Carolina

It’s time to get your taste on! Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours, a local business that organizes culinary tours in different cities around North Carolina, is hosting a Carrboro tasting and market tour this Saturday. Staff writer Krupa Kaneria spoke with Taste Carolina owner Lesley Stracks-Mullem about the upcoming event

The Daily Tar Heel: What is Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours?

Lesley Stracks-Mullem: We offer food tours in nine different cities around North Carolina. The tours are all walking tours of the downtown historic areas for the most part. They are guided tours, so we talk about the history of the city, architecture, and everything that is happening in the culinary scene. Each tour visits a number of different restaurants, usually five or six different restaurants during the three-hour tour. The food is being prepared as we walk in and the chef comes out to talk about what he or she has prepared. We are in and out of each place in about 20 minutes and then we walk to the next place. We do these tours almost every weekend year-round in all of our cities.

DTH: How long have you been in business and how did you get started?

LSM: We are currently in our ninth year of business. I was getting my MBA at UNC. I was at Kenan-Flagler finishing up as the recession was starting in 2008, and I was looking for a job locally and not having much luck with that. I had this idea and decided to go for it. Our first tours were in Durham and Chapel Hill, and then we had Raleigh up and running soon afterwards. I had had some relatives come and visit for a short period of time, and I wanted them to eat as much as possible in the time that they were here. I planned food tours for them and started thinking that maybe there was a market for something like this.

DTH: What is the Culinary Carrboro Tasting and Market Tour?

LSM: Our Saturday tours are usually limited to 15 people or fewer and that allows for a more personalized experience for people to ask questions to chefs and tour guides. We will visit Neal’s DeliPizzeria MercatoAcme Food & Beverage Co.OakleafCarrboro Coffee Roasters in Open Eye Café, and we will also visit the Carrboro Farmer’s Market for tasting with farmers and vendors. There is going to be lots of food at each place. It’s a walking tour and a fun shared dining experience because people from out-of-town and from locally sign up.

DTH: How long have you been participating in this event?

LSM: We have this event most Saturdays throughout the year. It depends on what the interest is as some seasons are busier than others – we only run this event about once a month in the summer and now we are busier in the fall. We conduct tours in Durham, Raleigh, Hillsboro, Wilmington, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Charlotte, and Asheville.

DTH: Do you think these tours impact local restaurants and their business?

LSM: I think that what happens is we bring people into restaurants that they might not find on their own for whatever reason. Maybe they have gotten into a habit of always going to the same placesand want to try something new, or they live in Durham and they don’t come to Carrboro very often, or they are in town visiting their kids and they want a sense of the food scene. So, we do see a really high rate of return for our customers going back to the restaurants that they visited on the tours. It also allows the chefs to come out of the kitchen and talk to customers, which they don’t get to do often, and I think they really enjoy doing that. People ask a lot of questions and the personal connections are really important to us.

DTH: What are you most excited about in terms of the event?

LSM: I am excited because we have a great line-up of restaurants right now. There is a really diverse offering of tastes and people. It will also be fun to see what is happening at the farmer’s market. We are little bit between seasons, so tomatoes and peppers are kind of phasing out and squash and eggplants are coming in. 

Q & A with the Director of Taste of Carolina
Q & A with the Director of Taste of Carolina