Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Savor Oakland to Launch Walking Food Tours

By Luke Tsai
Tue, Oct 16, 2012 at 8:00 AM

For the past couple of years, we’ve heard murmurs about how Oakland has emerged as America’s next great food city, which isn’t exactly news for those of us who eat here every day. But heck, if New York Times shout-outs aren’t enough to convince you — if it isn’t enough that culinary heavyweights from Syhabout and Patterson on down have anchored their growing restaurant empires here — then how about this: In the not so distant future, tourists from far-flung locales might travel to Oakland for the express purpose of participating in a walking food tour of the city.

At least that’s what Oakland residents Carlo Medina and Geneva Europa envision. Next week, the husband-and-wife tandem will introduce Savor Oakland, a new food tour business designed to celebrate the city’s food, culture, and history — and to help rehabilitate its image.

Carlo Medina, in tour guide mode during a soft preview of Savor Oaklands soon-to-launch JLS tour.
  • James Sobredo
  • Carlo Medina, in tour guide mode during a "soft" preview of Savor Oakland's soon-to-launch JLS tour.
The company’s first neighborhood-specific walking tour, of Jack London Square and the Warehouse District, will launch on Friday, October 26, and will run every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday thereafter, from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cost of the guided tour, which includes multiple food- and wine-tastings, will be $45 a person.

Medina explained that he and Europa drew inspiration for their fledgling business from a six-month trip to Central and South America that the couple recently took. He said they were particularly moved by the time they spent in Colombia, which he described as “the safest country we went to” and a place that was buzzing with energy and a great food scene — but that, like Oakland, suffers from an image problem, in this case because many people have heard about little else besides the drug cartels.

Likewise, Medina and Europa felt that of Oakland’s more than fifty neighborhoods, only three or four ever made the headlines — almost always for something bad. Their food tour business is meant, in part, to act as a counterpoint.

Of course, there are lots of food tours in the Bay Area, but Medina feels that Savor Oakland is unique in the sense that 1) it will focus exclusively on Oakland, 2) the tours will run regularly (rather than as a one-time special event), and 3) it will promote every aspect of Oakland, not just the food.

On the Jack London Square tour, for instance, participants will learn about the Port of Oakland, about the Bocanova building’s history as a spaghetti factory, and about the origins of foods like banh mi and ceviche. The underlying theme will be, “How does the food renaissance fit into the big picture of Oakland trying to move forward?”

Pork banh mi at Chop Bar
  • James Sobredo
  • Pork banh mi at Chop Bar
As far as food and drink are concerned, Medina said the tour won’t be a buffet — “you’re not going to stuff your face” — but, all told, the tastings will make for a filling brunch. The current lineup includes Home of Chicken and Waffles, Chop Bar, Bocanova, Miette, and the Urban Legend Cellars winery.

Medina expects that tourists will form part of Savor Oakland’s customer base, but that, in fact, the majority of tour participants will be locals. That includes everyone from the “housewife in Danville” to Oakland residents who themselves have yet to explore the city’s culinary riches — Medina said he was shocked at the fact that many city employees, for example, had never heard of the restaurants on the tour.

For the time being, Medina (a nurse) and Europa (a school administrator in East Palo Alto) are still holding down their day jobs, and they’ll serve as the guides for all of the Jack London Square tours. The hope, however, is that Savor Oakland would grow into a full-time enterprise, with tours exploring other neighborhoods: Chinatown, Uptown, Temescal — the sky’s the limit.

For more information or to sign up for a tour (advance ticket purchase required), check out the Savor Oakland website.

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