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After taking several food tours during their travels, Caroline Chance Earls, 30, and her husband, Ryan, 33, began to recognize that there was untapped culinary potential in their own backyard of Gainesville, Florida. It didn’t take them long to start talking about what it would be like to run a local food tour company of their own.
"On our tours we have locals looking to get out of a food rut, college students learning about their temporary home, parents of college students helping their children settle in, international students (one who had never tried mac and cheese!) and visitors for our sports and growing arts and culture scenes," Caroline says.
Here, Caroline shares how she and Ryan got their successful side gig off the ground.
In my day job, I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist and work at a private practice seeing individuals, couples and families. My husband, Ryan, is a client operations manager at an international HR software solutions company. Ryan also has his NFL agent's license and is the owner of Cover3 Representation.
Ryan and I are also the owners, operators and tour guides of Gainesville Food Tour, which offers local, historical walking tours featuring delicious food at local and North Florida-based restaurants.
I had the opportunity to take a food tour in New York City with my mom back in 2009. It was so fun and informative that, when Ryan and I traveled to Europe in April 2014, we booked a street food tour in Palermo, Sicily. Ryan also quickly became hooked, so we proceeded to book food tours wherever we traveled, including the Bahamas, Las Vegas and another trip back to New York.
Then we started batting around the idea of a food tour company in Gainesville.
We knew that we had a pretty special downtown area in terms of food and history. There are over 20 restaurants that span the range of food, from barbecue cooked in a specialty smoker to a family-owned pan-Latin restaurant, all within walking distance. The area’s history includes Native American villages, Civil War battles and there's even some proof that a presidential election was fixed in downtown Gainesville.
In May of 2015 we decided to buy the domain name for the website and move forward with building the business.
On average, we spend about 10 hours between the two of us on the business. Some weeks, like when we’re developing new tour ideas and building relationships with community partners, it's more. Initially, we worked on everything together: developing a business plan, filing for the LLC, writing our historical script and approaching restaurants together. Recently, we split many recurring duties, and we each have restaurants that we are responsible for. I developed and maintain our website, and Ryan handles more of the financial and back-end business side. We run each tour together.
Ticket sales help pay for all the food, as we want to offer a quality product and support our local businesses — in other words, we don't get anything for free. We max our tours out at 12 to 14 people. We try to keep costs around 50% of the total ticket price, so that means we typically take home a little over $300 per fully-booked tour.
Currently, Ryan and I do all the tours ourselves, and we are often out of town traveling on our own. Our hope is to hire an additional tour guide so we can offer more tour dates. We’re also developing a nighttime tour and tours for other parts of town.
While we are currently reinvesting our Gainesville Food Tour earnings in our business, we hope to use the extra income for travel and date nights. That’s how we fell in love with the idea of the business in the first place, and it’s important for us to have quality time and adventure in our lives.