top: Rosemary Lemonade from Bleu; Belgium Waffles from Günter Hans. Bottom: Surf n Turf Cake from Bleu; Chicken Fried Chicken with gravy and seafood gumbo, chocolate and white wedding cupcakes and a Dirty Money cocktail all from Glenn's Cafe and Velvet Cupcake. Photo courtesy of Kerri Linder.">
Columbia Culinary Tours was born from Columbia native Kerri Linder's passion for food and cooking, along with her love for the city.
While on vacations, Linder and her family frequently attended culinary tours, something she always wanted to do to quickly learn about the city she was visiting. After a tour in Charleston, South Carolina, Linder was flipping through a cooking magazine when the idea hit her: Columbia needed a culinary tour of its own to showcase its restaurants to visitors and locals.
Linder says she and her family had been stuck in a rut of routine restaurants and shops. "I live on the southwest part of town; there's a lot of restaurants there too, so we kind of stay in that area," she says. "I think a lot of people are that way about downtown. I hear this comment over and over: 'I don't think about downtown,'' she says. Although Linder believes a lot of students are aware of downtown establishments, she wants to help open more of the community to all the area has to offer. The tours are all about embracing something new — new foods, new surroundings, new knowledge and new people.
Last November, Linder did her first practice tour. Initially, she didn't know how the restaurant owners would perceive the idea, but upon approaching them, she learned they were just as excited as she was. "When I started this, I didn't know, do these restaurants see each other as competitors? Am I putting people against each other?" she says. "Everybody gets along great. They all kind of feel like if they can get people downtown to any restaurant, it's a win-win for all of them."
On each tour, attendees will not only get a taste of Columbia, but they also learn about the history of the town. "I'm a history nerd, so when I started looking into the history of Columbia, that was pretty fun for me," Linder says. While walking from restaurant to specialty shop, Linder informs the small groups of 10-15 about the town's almost 200-year existence.
Each tour group has the opportunity to speak to the owner or chef at each location to learn about how the food is made, what it is paired with and the restaurant's history. "I knew the food would be good on the tour; I didn't realize how much people would enjoy the owners, though," she says. "The owners have really seemed to like the interaction because they are so busy running their places, they don't always have the opportunity to sit in front of a group and get feedback."
Linder has mostly been giving tours to locals, but she hopes to give more to visitors as well to show off the city, especially visitors who frequent Columbia, such as alumni, visiting professors or parents with students in college.
"Any downtown area is the heart of the community, and I see it thriving again,"Linder says. "If I can bring more of the community downtown and get more of an appreciation of Columbia, then I'm a success."
Each tour is a walking tour of downtown that does not distance more than a mile and lasts approximately two hours. The tours consists of 5-6 stops at restaurants or specialty shops. Linder also does private, customizable tours for groups of 10 or more.
Visits coffee shops, bakeries and cafés such as Fretboard Coffee, Café Berlin, Velvet Cupcake, Boone Olive Oil Co., Günter Hans and Eleven Eleven to see Columbia in the morning.
Price: $34 per person
An afternoon of a variety of flavors from restaurants such as Bleu and specialty shops like the Candy Factory.
Price: $42 per person
Night on the Town Tour:
Geared towards those who are 21 and over, experience food and drink pairings and get a feel for the downtown evening scene.
Price: $48 per person
Craft beer tour:
Local restaurants team up with Columbia's brewing companies to pair food with craft beers.
Price: $58 per person
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