A new Abilene business is building a “foodie” community in Abilene. The Abilene Food Tour allows guests the chance to try their favorite downtown restaurants in a whole new, immersive experience. This unique business is the kind of thing you might find in a bigger city, but it’s become a big hit in Abilene.
Rochelle White and her husband moved to Abilene two years ago with entrepreneurial goals of starting businesses. Rochelle had experience working on a guest ranch in East Texas where she led paddleboard and hiking tours. In Abilene, she was surprised to see a vibrant downtown compared to the “ghost downtowns” she had seen in other small/mid-sized Texas towns.
“I have a passion for supporting small businesses,” White said. “And I was excited to see downtown and all these local businesses.”
She started doing market research about food tours and pitched the idea to a few restaurants. Once she had a foundation of businesses on board, they built out a tour that would allow guests to experience a multiple-course meal, learning a little history and making friends along the way.
“The restaurants really take care of the foodie aspect,” White said. They take care of feeding the signature dish and the taste, and then visiting with each other takes care of the friend aspect.”
Everyone who signs up for the tour meets at the Convention Center at a designated time. Some come as couples or groups of girlfriends, but they often don’t know the other guests on the trip.
“We’re all strangers at first,” White said, “but after three and a half hours of talking and eating, by the end of the tour you know each other really well. You come as strangers, and you leave as friends.”
The original tour went like this: It started with Vagabond Pizza, then Grain Theory, then The Local, followed by Cypress Street and finished off with dessert at Candies by Vletas and Honey and Fig Gelato. Newer versions of the tour split up the routes into downtown and a south of downtown (SODA District) versions. These tours typically take place on Saturdays from 2-4 p.m. or 4:30 6:30 p.m. Foodies can also do an abbreviated tour called “Drinks and Bites” on Wednesday nights.
At each stop, the chef or owner of the restaurant will come out and speak for a few minutes about the history of the business and the flavors and dishes the guests are about to eat.
“It’s some of the best food I’ve ever had,” White said. “I’ve become a snob about food since doing it. They have so much passion for their craft, and every single one of them is different. It really endears you to them and makes you want to keep coming.”
The restaurants decide what food to showcase, sometimes creating a surprise dish specifically for the food tour. If a guest has purchased the alcohol package, they will get drinks along with their meals.
White said guests range in ages and backgrounds. She’s had many couples from Dyess Air Force Base come to learn more about their new home. The tour is a great way for people who are new to Abilene to learn more about local options. But even those who have lived here for years can find something to enjoy.
“I’ve even hosted people who have done fancy food tours in Germany and New York and they were impressed and loved it,” White said. “I’m glad we’re able to hold up to that standard.”
Once the tour is complete, the group will head back to the Convention Center where everyone is parked. Sometimes people who just met will exchange numbers and form a new friendship.
For pricing and to book a tour, go to abilenefoodtour.com and get ready for a foodie adventure. White recommends wearing “walking shoes and stretchy pants.”
By Haley Laurence
Photos Courtesy of Rochelle White