The Magic of Food Tours in SLO with Angee Johnson of Taste of Slow

The Magic of Food Tours in SLO with Angee  Johnson of Taste of Slow

Episode Overview

Episode Overview:

Episode Topic:

In this episode of Travel-Preneur, host Megha McSwain gets into the innovative realm of culinary tourism with Angee  Johnson, the founder of Taste of Slo Walking Food Tours in San Luis Obispo, California. Angee  shares her journey of starting a unique food tour business that blends culinary delights with local culture and history. The episode uncovers how Taste of Slo Walking Food Tours offers a distinct and immersive experience for visitors, making them feel connected to San Luis Obispo in a meaningful way. Angee  discusses the inspiration behind her venture, her passion for food tours, and how she leverages her extensive hospitality experience to create memorable tours that highlight the best local eateries.

Lessons You’ll Learn

Listeners will gain valuable insights into the logistics of starting a niche tourism business and the importance of building strong local partnerships. Angee  emphasizes the significance of being organized, enthusiastic, and present to create a compelling customer experience. She also discusses overcoming initial challenges, such as finding the right ticketing software and marketing strategies. Additionally, Angee  highlights the importance of supporting local businesses and the community, showcasing how collaboration and mutual support can drive success. Listeners will also learn about the benefits of participating in free educational resources like SCORE to enhance their business acumen.

About Our Guest

Angee Johnson is the visionary behind Taste of Slo Walking Food Tours in San Luis Obispo, California. With over 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Angee  brings a wealth of knowledge and a deep passion for food and travel to her business. Originally from Minnesota, Angee fell in love with San Luis Obispo and its unique charm, which inspired her to start her food tour company. Her tours offer a blend of culinary experiences, local culture, and history, providing guests with a comprehensive and enjoyable exploration of the area. Angee ’s dedication to her business and her community shines through in her commitment to promoting local eateries and supporting fellow entrepreneurs.

Topics Covered

This episode covers a range of topics, starting with Angee ’s inspiration and journey to founding Taste of Slo Walking Food Tours. She discusses the challenges she faced, such as logistics, ticketing, and marketing, and how she overcame them with the help of resources like SCORE. Angee  explains how her tours support the local economy by promoting restaurants and collaborating with other small businesses. The conversation also touches on her experiences with large groups, including a memorable middle school field trip, and her approach to catering to diverse customer needs. Additionally, Angee  shares her future plans, including potential expansions and the idea of creating a digital guide for visitors to San Luis Obispo.

Our Guest:  Angee  Johnson- Visionary Founder of Taste of Slo Walking Food Tours

Angee  Johnson, the visionary founder of Taste of Slo Walking Food Tours, brings a wealth of experience and passion to the culinary tourism scene in San Luis Obispo, California. Originally from Minnesota, Angee ‘s journey began when she moved to the charming city a decade ago and fell in love with its unique blend of culture, history, and culinary delights. With a background spanning over 25 years in the hospitality industry, Angee ‘s expertise and enthusiasm shine through in every aspect of her business. Her deep connection to San Luis Obispo and her love for food and travel have driven her to create memorable experiences for both locals and tourists alike.

Angee ‘s innovative approach to food tours is rooted in her belief that every tour should offer a unique and enriching experience. She combines her extensive knowledge of the local area with a genuine passion for storytelling, ensuring that each tour is not only informative but also engaging and entertaining. Her tours are more than just culinary adventures; they are immersive experiences that give participants a true sense of the place they are visiting. By introducing guests to local restaurant owners, sharing historical anecdotes, and showcasing the hidden gems of San Luis Obispo, Angee  helps visitors develop a personal connection to the city.

Beyond her role as a food tour guide, Angee  is deeply committed to supporting the local economy and fostering a sense of community. She collaborates with various local businesses, particularly those owned and operated by women, to create tours that highlight the best of what San Luis Obispo has to offer. Her dedication to empowering female entrepreneurs is evident in her partnerships and collaborations, such as the all-female-based food tours she organizes. Additionally, Angee  is actively involved in philanthropic efforts, regularly donating her time and resources to support local non-profit organizations through silent auctions and other fundraising events. Her contributions not only promote local businesses but also enrich the broader community, making her a cherished and influential figure in San Luis Obispo.

The Magic of Food Tours in SLO with Angee  Johnson of Taste of Slow
The Magic of Food Tours in SLO with Angee  Johnson of Taste of Slow

Episode Transcript

Megha McSwain: Welcome to another episode of travel Preneur, where we delve into the innovative edge of the travel industry. I’m your host, Megha McSwain. Today we are joined by Angee Johnson, the visionary behind Taste of SLO walking food. Based in the charming city of San Luis Obispo in California, Angee’s tours offer a unique blend of culinary delights, local culture history. Welcome to the show, Angee.

Angee Johnson: Hi. Thank you for having me.

Megha McSwain: Thank you. Angee, what inspired you to start Taste of SLO Walking Food tours,  how do you ensure each tour offers a unique experience to your guests?

Angee Johnson: I was inspired to start Taste of SLO when I moved to San Luis Obispo, California about ten years ago. I fell in love with the place I originally had grown up in Minnesota,  moving to California was a breath of sun filled fresh air. Yes,  San Luis Obispo is kind of obscure. You know, in the state of California, everybody knows Los Angeles  San Francisco,  San Luis Obispo is just right in between those two.  You know, I found that really nobody from where I lived knew what I was talking about when I was explaining SLO.  I saw through social media  many other women like myself,  owning  operating food tour businesses in California  in other places, too.  You know, I just believed in myself.  I thought if they could do it, I could do it too.  That’s basically how tasty SLO began. I have about 25 years in the hospitality industry, so I felt, you know, really confident in that realm.  Thus the Taste of SLO was born. We’re talking about,  not about, we’re going to turn eight years old this year. Wow.  As far as unique experiences, I just feel like I love to go on food tours. I love to go on tours, period. When I travel,  I feel like how you bring value to an experience by being present and enthusiastic about it, but just the value of having someone who is capable, taking care of you for three hours, you don’t have to make any decisions. You just follow me around. I feed you, I drink you, I tell you stories, I make you laugh, I give you a little history,  I feel like it gives people a sense of possession of a place that they visited. When they know these historical facts, when they meet owners, when they meet locals,  they really feel like San Luis Obispo, I know that place, not just I visited it, but I know it.

Megha McSwain: Right.  it must have been a learning experience for you, not only for the business, but also just learning the area. I mean, it must have been helpful for you as well.

Angee Johnson: It was. It’s a great excuse to eat right, which is fantastic. But you know, as humans, our brains are incredible, incredible organs in our bodies.  You know, most of the time we run on autopilot, which is great. You know, it’s easy. We get into routine  habits, but, you know, when you really decide that you’re going to go down the rabbit hole in something  you engage a part of your brain to learn to be present and fill it up with all sorts of things. There’s really a lot of information you can fit in that hard drive. So I’m always on the lookout for new, fun things about flow. I love it when people come on my tour who may have worked as students of Cal Poly decades ago or lived in San Luis Obispo decades ago.  They tell me,  this used to be this or, you know, this was five cent pipe night at this bar or, you know, I just learned such fun things that I would have never known unless somebody shared that with me.

Megha McSwain: So  starting a business in this very niche market of food tours must come with its own challenges. Besides you yourself being kind of new to the area, what hurdles did you face initially and how did you overcome them?

Angee Johnson: You know, initially I guess it was just logistics, you know, saying you’re going to start a business  actually starting a business. There’s so many things. You know, one of the things I guess,  was ticketing,  you know, initially I googled like, you know, tickets, I don’t know, but the ticket provider that I ended up with was something for like events like festivals or in it,  I didn’t even know that there was a whole ticketing industry out there, software available. You know, I use Peak Pro now, which is a ticket provider, but I get contacted by other ticket providers all the time. So just, you know, really interesting with building the infrastructure  that’s available to support me out there.   then doing things like, you know, building a website,  marketing.   I took great advantage of score, which is a local resource that the Small Business of America Association, they’re located in lots of,  places, but there are free classes, you know,  it’s pretty cool in an age of student loan debt, to be able to go to a free class to learn about relevant acting business. Now, I would say that those are some of the, you know, hardships that come to mind right after. The top of my head.

Megha McSwain:  how does the taste of SLO tours contribute to the local economy and support other entrepreneurs in San Luis Obispo? I would imagine that you have, you know, these local kinds of partnerships or people that you’ve collaborated with or restaurants that you know you’re going to take people to. So it sort of funnels that, you know, it’s sort of like a, you know, a cycle of supporting each other. I would think.

Angee Johnson: Absolutely, It’s all about, you know,  I just take people to the places, the restaurants that are the real stars of the show.  so I consider myself to SLOW a hype business, you know, we’re here to hype up business.  so there’s probably, you know, like 300 restaurants to choose from, maybe, you know, just a guesstimate. So I’m taking the people to some of my favorites who, yes, I’ve developed relationships with  they’re fantastic partners. You know, they get it. We’re out in like 30 to 45 minutes. So they’re fast. You know, they’re bringing out food and drinks. They know exactly what’s happening. But I’m promoting these local businesses that these people otherwise might not have gone to just because they know about it. You know, there’s so many choices out there.  so it’s so gratifying. A few months ago, I went to a business, or I was in a business that I tour at with my swag on,  there was a group of people that were like,  we just went on your tour a few weeks ago and found out about this place. That’s our favorite to visit whenever we come to San Luis Obispo. So it’s really great to support some local businesses  just hype them up. You know,  when people take my recommendations  they actually eat the food and sit in the restaurant and see how lovely it is.  Then I also collaborate with some other small businesses. I just did a collaboration a few weeks ago with a local group called Women Making Waves.

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Angee Johnson: That’s all about the empowerment  support of local women entrepreneurs.  We did it all. Female based food tour. So every restaurant we went to was female owned.   You know, with supporting female businesses, it was supporting my female friend who has this business  collaborating with other local female business owners. So it was just like, really cool to have a group of locals. It was a very different context from the tourists that usually come to town.

Megha McSwain: Right.  also I would imagine, sorry.

Angee Johnson:  I was going to say  then I also donate to  501 sees a lot.  It’s a really easy donation to make,  to have local people come on a food tour based off of a silent auction, you know, to raise money for local, you know, like animal shelters   you know, there’s all sorts of things out there to donate to. So it’s very easy to give the gift of my time,  to generate some money for a non-profit business.

Megha McSwain: Sure, It must be gratifying to know that a lot of those people go back to the places that you introduced them to. So they kind of get a new following of, of,  customers or clientele.

Angee Johnson: absolutely. It’s really great, especially sometimes though the business owners will even tell me that, like,  people came in  and said that they found it on Angee’s tour.  it helps keep them in business, you know. Being a restaurant tour is a hard, hard business. So I do everything I can to support my favorite.

Megha McSwain:  In what ways have you tailored your business model to cater to, like the various needs of,  or maybe some bigger groups, if, if at all? I would imagine that with larger groups, there’s more dems or requests.

Angee Johnson: . You know, I actually just had my largest group in November. It was a middle school. So my field trip I thought was great. I really loved that the kids were coming.  It was because one of the faculty at the school had come on my tour for a bachelorette party. When they were brainstorming field trip ideas, she pitched it as a field trip  they contacted me about.  Of course, middle schoolers have a different set of needs than adults,  so we custom built them. Sure that was a little bit more kid friendly and also came up with an appropriate price point that, you know, made sense because, you know, it’s a school. So their budget parameters are different.  I had the most fantastic day with those kids and all their chaperones too. I think that the chaperones really had a great food tour day too.  then the little sweeties wrote to me, thank you mom.

Megha McSwain:  That’s so that’s so sweet.

Angee Johnson: It was the sweetest. It was made. It made me feel so happy.  they were such nice kids.

Megha McSwain: What a great Idea for middle schoolers. Because you think about food tours. You think of adults for some reason, all the time. But, I mean, the foodies are starting younger these days.

Angee Johnson:  we have like, ahi fish tacos at a place which isn’t necessarily something that seventh graders eat all in time.

Megha McSwain: right? Or might even be familiar with.

Angee Johnson: Right.  It’s kind of interesting how when the kids are together like that, they are really sweet to each other. They were hyping each other up. They’re like, try it. It’s really good. You’ll love it.  you know, they were all brave, some of them were like,  I actually don’t like this. But they tried it.  so , it was a great day.

Megha McSwain:  Looking forward, what new developments or expansions are you planning for Taste of? So I feel like you could have a whole kid division.

Angee Johnson: You know, the idea that lives in my head is really never ending, but I guess what is actually practical  gets instituted is totally different. I kind of have this philosophy right now that I’m very happy where I’m at.  You know, I sometimes jokingly say there’s a lot of highly motivated people frozen on the Himalayan mountains.  you know, I don’t feel like you always have to be, you know, trying to do more. But sometimes it’s okay to sit where you’re at, like, I’m comfortable. I only do the tours on the weekends. I also have a real job. Quote unquote.  this is my side hustle.

Megha McSwain:  What’s your real Job if you don’t mind sharing?

Angee Johnson: I work at a restaurant.

Megha McSwain:  cool.

Angee Johnson: , I work at a beautiful French bistro  Avila Beach, California.  right on the ocean. It’s fantastic.   I’m a server, so I practice my skill sets with people every day.  I also get to tell a lot of people my business. So it’s a win win. . That’s great. But, you know, by only doing the tours on the weekends for eight years, I still love it. You know, I’m fresh and ready to go. There’s never any burnout.   so I think about doing things. I’ve actually been thinking about doing a digital download, PDF of a guide of things to do in San Luis Obispo, for people perhaps, who don’t have the time. Or maybe you’re on a budget, but just outlining some of my favorite things to eat in the Central Coast.   just to have a guide out there. So that’s kind of something practically that I think I will implement.  I also think about adding different tours sometimes,  for returning guests.  I have two tours right now. I have three at one time. I got rid of one,  now it’s just the two.  I do occasionally change the places that we visit. But changing is so hard because I develop such great relationships.  It’s always hard to say goodbye because it’s not necessarily a goodbye. It’s just changing things to maybe the season or, you know, just changing things up.  In the eight years I’ve worked with over 50 different businesses in the local area,  it’s kind of maintained a balance between giving everyone a fair shot and also holding sacred the relationships that I’ve built. Sure. So it’s definitely a balancing act.

Megha McSwain: For someone who might be interested in starting their own food tour company. What advice would you offer based on your own experiences?

Angee Johnson: Well, I Would say go for it, do it. It’s fantastic. I love having my side hustle  a little extra business. I am an extrovert, so I love the energy that hanging around with people gives me because it’s just so cool to meet people.  but I would say, you know, organization  leadership is so organized. I’m really organized.  Sometimes I’m just like you dropping the ball for God. You know, you have to really be looking ahead in the future all the time planning. So. But I think that, you know, I want to focus on really optimistic people. I’m just like, if you set your mind to it, you can do it. So , a food tour, if there’s not one in your area, make one.

Megha McSwain: Maybe, maybe I will. Houston is such a big food city, so you know there if there aren’t any, there should be.  How do you feel? You should go. , I should. The only problem with Houston is that. It’s so spread out. So we don’t have walking tours; the weather can be unpredictable too. So walking tours don’t sound appealing to most people unless you’re going to like a. . You know.

Angee Johnson: . You’re like you have a golf cart. .

Megha McSwain: Exactly. Or an air conditioned vehicle. You know, it can get hot  if it just spreads out. So it’s hard logistically. But,  Houston is such a fun city. So anything food related is a big sell here.

Angee Johnson:  I bet. . I hope that I can visit Houston in the future and delve into it.

Megha McSwain: . For sure. You know, how do you keep the tours you mentioned,  return customers, people who’ve maybe already done your tour once, maybe want to see something different. How do you keep those tours fresh?  You know, you have a certain number of restaurants, certain places that you’re showing people around that area.  How do you sort of appeal to return customers? Do you? I know you’re probably working on that  trying to.

Angee Johnson: You know, when I started the business, I really didn’t think that I’d have a bunch of return customers. I thought it would be kind of like one  done. That really wasn’t part of my thinking,  I am honestly surprised at how many people come back. But,  I’m thinking of this one family in particular, Donald. They even know his name. They come on my tour every year. Every year.

Megha McSwain: Are they from, are they local or are they visiting? Visiting like tourists.

Angee Johnson: Oh they’re Visiting.

Angee Johnson: . Like my demographic is. Most of the people who come on my tours are Californians. I would say probably about 80%. But then you do get other states and other countries as well. But it just seems like people like to travel in California, especially from LA, the Bay and the Valley. They like to get away from the weather or the traffic  coming here to the coast, where the temperature is always 75  sunny, right? Doesn’t matter if it’s December or June, what it is. The amount of people that come on my tours again is wild.  so they usually get different tours to a certain extent just because the tours do change.  but if I do know that they are repeat customers who have maybe been on a tour several times, I will maybe try to change up what we eat and what we do just to give them something different. I do have some restaurants that are my backup restaurants, if you will. You know, you always have to have a plan B.

Megha McSwain: Sure, definitely.

Angee Johnson:  There’s also a secondary restaurant. So I have a lot of flexibility to try to give the best experience to anybody who comes on the tour.

Megha McSwain: Cool. Well, they sound like a lot of fun.  I mean, I can’t imagine it not being in a coastal town. I mean, I just feel like just being outside  walking with like minded people who are interested in trying out new restaurant  food just sounds like a blast to me,  I’m sure it is to a lot of foodies.

Angee Johnson: It’s pretty great.  As a side effect of being a food tour owner, I go on so many food tours when I travel. I’ve been on about 30 different food tours, I think like nine different countries. , .  It’s one of my favorite ways to learn about a place because who does culture? Yodelling, breaking the breaking of bread. You know, the host  you know, welcoming people in.  I learned so much when I went on a food tour,  just roman things.  I meet such interesting people. So.  then when you’re on foot in a city that has an appropriate temperature.

Angee Johnson: You see, you know, you really see where you’re at from a different perspective.

Megha McSwain: . For sure. Well, thank you so much, Angee, for sharing. You know, part of your journey with us  sharing what you do.  let our listeners know where they can check out,  taste of SLO and how they can experience it themselves.

Angee Johnson: . So my website is kind of a mouthful of the taste of SLO walking food tours. Com taste of SLO for San Luis Obispo.  so you can find me on my website. If you just google Taste of SLO, you’ll find it pretty easily on the internet. To my Facebook and my Instagram are both,  taste of slo. Pretty easy to find.   You can book tickets right on my website. If you have questions, you can reach out to me there as well. Great.

Megha McSwain: Well, thank you so much to our listeners. Be sure to check out the taste of SLO to experience the best of San Luis Obispo through its flavors. I know I definitely will. I’ve never been there.   If I come to town, I’m definitely going to check out your food tours. I’m all about that. I would love to see you. Everyone, please. Don’t forget to subscribe to Travel Preneur for more inspiring stories and innovative ideas from the travel industry. Thank you so much Angee. We look forward to speaking with you again soon.  until next time, keep exploring. Thank you Megha.