Boothbay Harbor latest destination for Maine Foodie Tours
Those seeking a true taste of Boothbay Harbor may want to consider Maine Foodie Tours. Since April, the tour has stopped at seven restaurants and shops four times a week tasting unique foods produced by locals. While a food tour is new to Boothbay Harbor, the concept isn’t to Maine Foodie Tours owner Pamela Laskey. In 2009, she started her Maine-based business in Portland. Laskey later expanded to locations in Kennebunk and Bar Harbor, with plans for another in Rockland next year.
So what is a Maine Foodie Tour? In Boothbay Harbor, it consists of a local tour guide leading tourists paying $70 each to walk around downtown sampling treats, desserts and entrees during a nearly two-mile and three-hour walk. On Sept. 11, tour guide Betsy “T” Thibault of Boothbay Harbor led 10 paying customers to sample food served around town. The tour began at 10:15 a.m. at the municipal parking lot and proceeded up McKown Road to Topside Inn for a strawberry rhubarb granita and ended around 2 p.m. with mini-whoopie pies at Wicked Whoopies.
At each stop, the owner or chef greets the tourists and discusses his or her business and their delicious creations. Topside Inn co-owner Brian “Buzz” Makarewicz described how he and his partner, Mark Osborn, bought the historic inn four years earlier. The once 20-acre property owned by Captain McKown is now four acres. He explained the inn made its own jam from fruit growing on their land. The inn cures its own salmon and makes dishes from scratch.
The first stop ends with a fish cake version of Eggs Benedict. Topside Inn prepared stuffed baked haddock fish cake served with Hollandaise sauce. The tour continued with visits at Eventide Specialties for cheese tasting, Coastal Prime for fish tacos, Kaler’s Restaurant for a cup of corn and lobster chowder, Mine Oyster where owner Ralph Smith served five different oyster dishes, and Coastal Maine Popcorn Co. for a maple popcorn sample and 20 percent coupon for a future purchase, before arriving at Wicked Whoopies for a mini-pie.
Maine Foodie Tours is modeled after one Laskey encountered in Boston 10 years ago. At the time, Laskey worked in textbook education sales and marketing. She moved to Portland in 2009, and witnessed a small city with an abundance of culinary entrepreneurs. Laskey was looking for a career change, and decided becoming a “foodie” was the right course.
“When I moved I fell in love with Portland’s food scene. I thought Portland would be a perfect place for it, and most of all, it would be fun.”
But eight years ago, food tours were still an emerging industry. Lasey recalled her business was one of about five in the entire country. Maine Foodie Tours struggled for several years before hers and similar ventures nationally took hold.
Maine Foodie Tours are led by local tour guides who know the local food scene and history. In Boothbay Harbor, Laskey employs three guides. On Sept. 11, Thibault led the group of six women from the Atlanta, Georgia area along with a tag-along friend from Washington, D.C., a married couple from Deerfield, Massachusetts, and a Bangor woman.
This is the first foodie tour for the women’s group. They arrived in Portland last week and drove to Bar Harbor. They spent the past week in a rental car touring coastal Maine along U.S. Route 1. Betty Schneider of Chamblee, Georgia experienced a new food, the fish cake. She thoroughly enjoyed the tour. “Without a doubt this has been a wonderful experience. It doesn’t look like a lot of food, but I’m full, and I told them, 'You might want to serve me an extra stomach.'”
This wasn’t the first tour for Mary Ellen and John Warchal of Deerfield, Massachusetts. They have taken a Maine Foodie Tour of Portland and several others. So during a trip to Boothbay Harbor, they decided to take the local foodie tour. “We’ve taken several food tours, and each time it’s an excellent experience. We knew we’d have a good time on this one, and we did,” she said.
The Boothbay Harbor tours aren’t selling out, but they are ahead of expectations, according to Thibault. As the tour became better known this summer, tours averaged around 10-12, and she believes more marketing will improve attendance. “Right now, it’s mostly word of mouth. There are a couple good reviews on Trip Advisor which has helped us. So I think next year there is a good chance tours will happen seven days a week,” she said.
This is the tour’s first year so it’s difficult to gauge its impact on local business: There isn’t enough data. Last year, the Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce recommended several businesses for the tour. Topside Inn was one of them. Osborn said Topside joined the tour because he and Brian thought it was a good way to promote Boothbay Harbor.
“We do a lot trying to promote the community and we love to see new faces here. We saw this as something positive for the community so we decided to become a part of the tour,” he said.
Laskey sees great growth potential within the industry. She points toward the Food Network's success generating more interest in the culinary arts and foodie tours as another outlet for food fans to learn more about food.