You might not think a town Juneau’s size could support two food tours, but as Karen Wright, one of the new owners of Alaskan Food Tours pointed out, there are nearly 80 eating establishments in just the downtown corridor.
Maybe two is too few.
Alaskan Food Tours, originally started by Gwen Rivas and Dana Richards in 2012, was bought by Wright and her sister-in-law, Lucy Nelson, last year. They started taking bookings in June.
“We are a new tour essentially this year,” Wright said. “The tour that we bought was very different.”
The tour they decided on is composed of nine stops, some the ones you would expect such as Taku Smokeries, Tracy’s King Crab Shack and the Alaskan Fudge Company, but there’s also some you wouldn’t. What could a food tour possibly be doing at the Glacier Salt Cave and Spa? And why is the last stop Sealaska Plaza, where no restaurants are located?
“There’s a lot that goes into choosing the different stops. One of the things that you’re looking at is a mix of heavy and light tastings, you’re looking at sweet and savory,” Wright said.
They were also looking for “those things that aren’t easily duplicated or replicated” and fresh food served by local businesses was a must.
The Glacier Salt Cave and Spa? Their mineral-rich salt water made from Himalayan Pink Salt cleanses attendees palates and balanced their pH before heading for the sweet treat of rhubarb sherbet next door at Coppa.
And at Sealaska Plaza, Nelson shared a bit of her Tlingit background and culture before sharing some dried seaweed and halibut with the guests. The seaweed was harvested by Edna Jackson of Kake, and the halibut smoked by her husband Mike.
The Alaskan Food Tour is as much about the stories as the edibles, whether it is the salty tale of Juneau’s founding or a stop at Manila Square to point out the Filipino history in Juneau and contributions to the region.
“It was really important that we incorporate the cultural portions into our tour because they’ve not been talked about. Nobody’s talking about the Filipinos,” Wright said.
Some of the stories are impromptu. A visit to Twilight Café, now located in the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff building, included a brief history of the building by Bob Banghart after the deputy director of the State Libraries, Archives and Museum stopped in for a cup of coffee.
Wright and Nelson pride themselves on getting “nothing but five star reviews” on every reviewing website, and also on the fact that for every tour a portion of proceeds are donated to the Glory Hole and other organizations.
“Food is something that’s absolutely essential for living,” Wright said.
To prep for their new business, Wright and Nelson took a food tour in Chicago and did four tours in three days in Seattle.
“It was like market research,” Nelson said. “We had kind of gone with the idea that we’re going to go and do (tours by) different companies within the same area and see if it is possible to get different experiences with the food tour because we do have another food tour company here in town.”
The other is Juneau Food Tours, run by Capital City Weekly food columnist Kelly “Midgi” Moore.
“We actually learned different things at each tour,” Nelson said. “I loved every one of them and I had a blast.”
Wright said the tour leaves people with new food memories.
“Every place that you go has a different flavor and when you eat (while) you travel, it really creates lasting memories because you’re using all five of your senses.”