New route, new cuisine
Tucson Food Tours now explores Fourth Avenue and Main Gate restaurants
Tucson Food Tours owner and guide Bradner Lawrence tells of history about the train station at Maynard's Market.
Tucson Food Tours has become a popular food tourism business in Tucson since it was established in 2012. In the past, they offered only one tour, which features restaurants from the downtown Tucson area. Recently, they added an additional tour route that will showcase five restaurants on Fourth Avenue and Main Gate Square.
Bradner Lawrence opened Tucson Food Tours alongside his wife, Maria. The two co-owners combined their interests for food and Tucson to create the business. Lawrence said he originally gained inspiration for starting a food tour company in Tucson after participating in a similar food tour in Chicago.
“We actually did a food tour in Chicago right before I got a job as a firefighter, and there was just enough places opening up downtown in Tucson to walk to that were good local spots,” Lawrence said. “So when I was on the food tour in Chicago, I thought ‘Hey, we could do this in Tucson.’ I looked it up and saw that no one else was doing it at the time, so I figured it would be a good side business to start.”
It was fairly easy for Lawrence to organize the food tours, since he already had connections with individuals who worked in the Tucson food industry.
The downtown tour features six restaurants, including The Hub and El Charro.
“We try to keep our tours at around 12 people maximum so they’re a little more intimate, but what that meant was that we were selling out,” Lawrence said.
Once the popularity of the food tours began to rise, Lawrence decided it was time to expand. Instead of simply adding more times for the downtown tours, Lawrence said that he wanted to integrate a different part of Tucson into the food tours, which resulted in the new Main Gate Square and Fourth Avenue tour.
Lawrence said the downtown tour includes well-known restaurants in Tucson, while the Fourth Avenue tour will focus primarily on “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants, such as Cafe Passé, the Drunken Chicken, Lindy’s on 4th, TallBoys AF, BOCA Tacos y Tequila and more.
The contrasts between the tours are not limited to the differences between restaurants, but also the varying history of these places. The downtown food tour teaches customers about historic downtown Tucson while also visiting some of the most popular culinary spots. The new tour will be concentrated on providing clients with knowledge about the historic university while visiting lesser-known restaurants and cafes.
Lawrence said frequenters of the food tours are often diverse. There is not a prominent population of tourists versus locals, rather it‘s a mix of both.
About one-third of the customers are locals, and the other two-thirds of the customers are generally tourists or individuals who have a seasonal home in Tucson, Lawrence said.
When Tucson was recognized by UNSECO to be the first World City of Gastronomy, Lawrence said he saw a spike in college students bringing their parents along with them on the food tours.
The UNSECO rating also brought in more business from culinary-oriented tourists who visit Tucson to experience different types of cuisine.
“The goal is to make regular customers out of people,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence said the main distinction between Tucson Food Tours and other cities’ food tours, like the one he went on in Chicago, is that Tucson is more food-oriented, rather than history-oriented.
“We try to make people full by the time they’re done,” Lawrence said. “I think what made us popular is that you don’t always feel like you’re on a tour; you feel like you’re with a group of your friends walking around eating and drinking.”
For a full list of tour dates and registration, visit Tucson Food Tours' website.
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