Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Theresa Nemetz, the founder of Milwaukee Food Tours. (You can read about my experience on the Milwaukee Food Tours Sightseeing Bus here.) We discussed the everyday challenges of running a tour company, successful and not so successful tours, and future plans.
I met Theresa for coffee at City Market in Shorewood. She had finished teaching a culinary class at Nicolet High School in Glendale, Wisconsin. I asked her how Milwaukee Food Tours got started. She explained how the idea began when she and her husband were on vacation in New York City. She liked how the tours showed off the city through its food and neighborhoods. Eight years later, the Milwaukee Food Tours has become a successful tour company, garnering awards and sold out tour times.
Success came also from the unique background of Theresa and her husband. Milwaukee Food Tours combined her love for Milwaukee and her husband’s love for food. Her husband owns Hawthorne Coffee Roasters and can be seen at the Wauwatosa Farmer’s Market every Saturday. (Although the colder weather means the Winter Farmer’s Market season begins soon, starting this November at the Mitchell Park Domes.) This year will also mark the first time Milwaukee Food Tours will be present at Milwaukee Wine and Dine, the annual event for everything culinary and booze-related.
Running a tour company isn’t easy, since one faces challenges every day. Theresa told me the two main challenges facing Milwaukee Food Tours are allergies and weather. Like farming and transportation, food tours are weather dependent. During October Milwaukee Food Tours slowly fades out the walking tours and focuses primarily on the bus tours. Although the “Bloody Third Ward” Bloody Mary Brunch Tours, a walking tour, is consistently popular year round. The warming effect of the Bloody Marys may account for the popularity that at first blush seems counter-intuitive. But this is Milwaukee and any Milwaukeean should know what made Milwaukee famous. Milwaukee is a city famous for its food and beer.
The second challenge for food tours are allergies. Accommodating a person’s specific food allergies becomes challenging when the tour involves multiple restaurants. Theresa explained how this can be a challenge for restaurant owners as well. This isn’t to say allergies will be a detriment to a fun tour experience, but it is advantageous to everyone involved that food allergies are known ahead of time. (I have fish allergies, so I won’t be going on any tours of local fish fries. This is unfortunate, since the Friday fish fry is a local tradition I can’t experience.)
Theresa went on to explain how Milwaukee Food Tours develops its programming. She said tours begin by listening to customers. They have a You Asked For It series, creating tours based on customer feedback. In other cases, private tours have become regularly scheduled tours. As of this writing, Milwaukee Food Tours is working on two more tours. One focused on BBQ and the other focused on coffee. Between Alterra, Collectivo, and Anodyne (in addition to the aforementioned Hawthorne), Milwaukee has plenty of variety in terms of coffee. During our conversation about coffee, I mentioned my love for Vietnamese coffee. Something I discovered living two blocks away from a Vietnamese restaurant while living in Rochester, Minnesota.
But with every success there are missteps. Theresa discussed one particular tour that wasn’t successful. They had a walking tour that went from Brady Street to Old World Third Street. At two miles it was a hike. When you add in inclement weather, even a leisurely stroll can seem like a challenge. If you regularly endure Wisconsin winters, you understand the situation.
But despite these shortcoming, Milwaukee Food Tours is on the upswing. Weekend tours regularly get sold out. With the popularity of the bus and food tours, I wondered what the future plans were for Milwaukee Food Tours. Theresa set the bar high. In addition to the previously mentioned BBQ and coffee tours, they are planning overnight excursions to Chicago, Kansas City, and Galena. Galena? I asked, only knowing the name as it relates to Ulysses S. Grant. Theresa told me Galena can be described as akin to Cedarburg, but the town is tiered along the Mississippi River. My wife and I are big fans of river towns, including Red Wing, Minnesota, and La Crosse, Wisconsin. My interest was piqued. Theresa also told me about plans for tours to South America to visit coffee plantations.
Theresa Nemetz gave me a fascinating view inside Milwaukee Food Tours. With ambitious future plans and a popular tour programming that continues to sell out, Milwaukee Food Tours is a place to experience the food and neighborhoods of Milwaukee.