Shelly Metz was gearing up for her family’s upcoming vacation to Fort Pierce, researching touristy activities when she came across Treasure Coast Culinary Tours.
Why not, Metz thought, the family loves to try local cuisine, and it’s a great way to get to know the area as first-time visitors.
The Metz family, of Columbus, Ohio, bopped around Downtown Fort Pierce on June 9 — chowing down on crepes, seafood gumbo, blackened shrimp tacos, wagyu beef and crab bisque.
“You know, every restaurant has their signature food or drink, and as people who have never been here before, you wouldn’t know that,” Metz said. “So it’s nice that we get to taste it.”
Treasure Coast Culinary Tours is a 2 ½-hour walking food excursion offered in Fort Pierce, Vero Beach and Sebastian for tourists and residents alike to sample the best local eateries have to offer.
It’s a local business helping other local businesses, said tour guide Debbi Goodman Venturina, and is much-needed as entrepreneurs bounce back from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s the whole goal,” said Venturina, of Vero Beach. “Support local businesses so customers come back.”
Diners pay a $75 fee which includes all food and drink items offered on the tour, Venturina said. Treasure Coast Culinary Tours covers the tab at each site and a 20% gratuity for servers. There are about 10 or 12 businesses in each city with which tour guides rotate.
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The Metz family’s outing visited the Old Florida Coffee Co., Cobb’s Landing, Taco Dive, Pierced Ciderworks and Pickled Restaurant and Bar.
Owner Jennifer Aiello, of Vero Beach, started Treasure Coast Culinary Tours in 2015, after partaking in a similar activity while she and her husband were in Miami.
Aiello loved the idea. As a self-proclaimed foodie, Aiello said she always looks to local restaurants first when going on vacation and wanted to bring the tours to her hometown.
At first, Treasure Coast Culinary Tours was just a side gig, Aiello said. It started in Vero Beach and only operated one Saturday a month for about the first two years.
Tours expanded to Sebastian and Fort Pierce, Aiello said, and business really took off in early 2019 with multiple tours weekly that were comprised of just as many local residents as out-of-towners.
COVID-19 threw an unexpected wrench into the business and halted tours for a majority of 2020, Aiello said. It has unfortunately been a slow recovery, too, and groups are “few and far between.”
Treasure Coast Culinary Tours is looking to expand to other cities, she said, possibly in Stuart, Jensen Beach or Melbourne.
The nationwide worker shortage has also caused issues, and Aiello said she has not found staff to start-up tours in new areas.
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Aiello remains hopeful that the business will turn around as travel and dining out resumes, she said. Regardless of the setbacks, the business has become her passion and she isn’t stopping any time soon.
“I don’t do it to make money,” Aiello said. “I do it to share my love of food with other people.”
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