Randy Harter has found a way to bring a favorite travel experience back home.
“My wife and I have been on food tours in three other cities while we were on vacation and really enjoyed them,” he said.
“We decided, hey, it would be fun to do a Fort Wayne food tour. I think Fort Wayne’s ready; there’s enough going on, there’s a lot of interest in the downtown area. We like to walk, we like to talk about history, and we love eating.”
With those passions in mind, Fort Wayne Food Tours were born.
Harter started working on the tour in September, recruiting his daughter, Sarah Arnold, to help with social media, marketing and as a backup tour guide.
Harter also reached out to area restaurants to gauge interest and Visit Fort Wayne to see if it would be supportive.
“(The visitors’ bureau people) were very enthusiastic about it,” Harter said. “They see it as one more thing in their bag of offerings of something interesting that people can do in the downtown core.”
The three-hour tour has 11 stops – five for tasting local fare and six for learning local history.
The tour starts at Don Hall’s Gas House, due in part to its ample parking and the owners’ enthusiasm for the project.
“Ben Hall there was the very first person I talked to, who runs the Gas House, and he was very enthusiastic about it and right from the get-go said, ‘yes, we want to be involved,’” Harter said.
Restaurants picked the items they want to serve on the food tour, presenting dishes they are known for.
“Ben Hall at the Gas House told me the most popular meal that they serve is a filet with mashed potatoes and mushrooms,” Harter explained. “That’s how the tour is going to start out, with a tasting of some slices of their cooked filet, some mashed potatoes with some mushrooms on them.”
At the Hoppy Gnome, guests will sample huarache, a Mexican flatbread with spare-rib and other items, Harter said. The Dash-In, famous for its grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato bisque soup, will serve those items.
“I think people who haven’t had a grilled cheese sandwich and soup there are going to be shocked at how good it is,” Harter said.
“The Golden changes their menu every day…they’re famous for their farm-to-fork concept. So every time we go there it’s going to be something different,” he added about the fourth stop.
The final food stop will be at DeBrand Fine Chocolates.
In addition to the tastings, local chefs, when available, will talk about the dishes they’ve prepared, Harter said.
Arnold said this gives a food tour an “exclusive” feel.
“Not everybody is going to hear right from the chef’s mouth what he has prepared and how he’s prepared it and like at the Golden where the ingredients came from because they source local ingredients for their food. It’s just this behind-the-scenes tour of Fort Wayne that hasn’t been done before,” she said.
In between, tour guests will learn about the architecture and history of the Summit City.
“The whole idea is to make it an interesting food experience, to take a little wander around downtown and learn some of the interesting historical factoids about the city…without putting people to sleep,” Harter said.
The tour has a benefit for the restaurants as well, he added.
“It’s designed to get people into a restaurant and get a taste for what the offerings are, see what the place looks like, what the ambiance is, and then not only spread the word to their friends but then also themselves come back for a full meal,” Harter said. “It’s supposed to be a win-win for everyone.”
Tickets are $55 for the three-hour tour and are available at: fortwaynefoodtours.com. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Tours begin at 3 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Fort Wayne Food Tours’ season runs March through October.