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Inspired Ingenuity: Reinvention key to restaurant’s survival

Published: April 2021

With one foot in hospitality and one foot in tourism, how do you trust that your business will survive a pandemic that has hurt both industries?

For food tour operator Columbus Food Adventures, it meant trusting their own knowledge and connections with local restaurants to cook up two new offerings from scratch – and trusting that the community would embrace them.

Co-owners Bethia Woolf and Andy Dehus founded Columbus Food Adventures in 2010 to showcase the growing and diverse Columbus, Ohio, food scene, and by early 2020 the business was offering over 20 distinct experiences, from tacos to desserts to breakfast.

But when the State of Ohio closed dining rooms last March, “Plainly put, the pandemic completely shut us down,” Bethia said. Not only had many of their stops shut their doors, but even gathering a tour group would be a serious safety issue. “We didn't want to do anything irresponsible, or even anything that could be construed as appearing irresponsible,” she said.

So, like many in the food industry, Bethia, Andy and their team began to think creatively. “We evaluated what we still had ­– the knowledge, relationships, and social media following, among other things ­– and thought about how we could work with them in a way that conformed to all of these new external constraints,” Bethia said. They also hoped to find a way to support struggling local eateries.

As for many brick-and-mortar restaurants last year, the solution was delivery. Through Columbus Food Adventures’ Trust Fall concept, diners receive a multi-course meal delivered to their home for just $40. The catch? They’ll have no idea where the food is coming from nor which dishes will be included until it arrives at their door.

“The way we thought about it, the element of surprise replicated one key aspect of a food tour for our customers,” Bethia said, “and it also gave us the flexibility to showcase restaurants that we really believed in who could also use the help.”

She estimates that they have delivered over 4,000 Trust Fall meals so far, largely from immigrant-owned businesses that serve fare from around the world. Central Ohio diners have taken to social media to rave about their Trust Fall experiences and the “new-to-them” cuisine from some of the region’s hidden gems.

Just before the holidays, they also began offering Columbus-centric gift boxes filled with foods made by local artisans. “We've found these boxes to be a nice way to work with tour partners who don't operate traditional restaurants, and a nice way for our customers to share the flavors of the city with friends and family far and wide (including homesick ex-Columbusites),” Bethia said.

Though neither endeavor replaced the tour income they originally expected in 2020, “they've gone well enough for us to feel truly lucky,” Bethia said. She and Andy are proud of what they have accomplished.

“It felt as though anything new that we could achieve under pandemic circumstances was a win, no matter how small,” she said. “Looking at it like that was freeing, and seeing our efforts gain traction was heartening.”

Columbus Food Adventures hopes to continue both Trust Fall and gift boxes in some form, though Bethia and Andy hope restaurant operations – and their tour business – will return to normal soon. “Takeout and delivery have their place,” Bethia said, “but from our perspective they're no substitute for actually interacting with people inside a restaurant, including the people running the restaurants.”

And it’s those people – from the diners who entrusted their meals to Columbus Food Adventures to the chefs and restaurant owners who weathered the pandemic alongside them – who they are most grateful for.

“Restaurant people tend to have big hearts, and this has never been more fully on display than during the pandemic,” Bethia said. “Working with them under these circumstances has been not just good, but truly awe inspiring and a privilege.”

Follow Columbus Food Adventures on Instagram! 

@cbusadventures 

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