Events like food and wine tours have come to a halt across the country, prompting organizers to think outside the box. Some events have gone virtual while others are offering them "to go."
"Tours just stopped, a hard stop around March 14. My first though was, which is crazy, is that it wasn't even me but what are my restaurants going to do because without them, there is no food tour," says Cristina McCarter, the owner of City Tasting Tours in Memphis, Tennessee.
When the COVID-19 pandemic prompted shelter-in-place restrictions this spring, she made her business virtual, offering food delivery from local restaurants that were on her tasting tour. But when restaurants opened back up, she had to think of a new way to keep her business alive.
"I had to think of something else. So, I thought about, okay, maybe I could do a box and we can deliver some of the food items to people around town," says McCarter.
That's when her friend, Lisa Brown, came in to help co-own and invest in their new business idea, City Tasting Box.
"We really just started to talk instantly about who are the vendors that we want to work with, who represents Memphis and we really just started to pull it off together. What is the experience we want it to be for the consumer?" says Lisa Brown.
Brown and McCarter both wanted to create a product that not only showed off the best of Memphis but benefited local restaurants and food artisans. They've now launched two boxes.
The first is the "Official Memphis Travel Box" and the second is the "Support Local Box." As for what's in the box? McCarter says, "There's Makeda's cookies in there and we always say you cannot visit Memphis and not have Makeda's cookies. That means you didn't do Memphis right if you didn't get your barbecue and your hot wings."
Giving locals and the entire country a taste of town in a convenient "to go" box is a concept shared by others around the country who've had to shut down or adjust their business during the pandemic.
At Seattle's Pike Place Market, organizers offer the Pike Box, which includes farmer's market produce delivered to your door without having to visit the market in person. Keeping safe, physical distances but still supporting local businesses, McCarter and Brown said the pandemic and their new business has taught them that they're stronger together, especially when showing off their Memphis pride.
"We want to push Memphis out to the whole nation and all of the good parts of what makes us who we are," says Brown.
Already, the boxes are gaining traction.
“It’s been going great. [We've had] really good response so far, mostly from out-of-towners,” McCarter said. “We've gotten a lot of messages from people saying, 'Oh this is such a great idea, we miss Memphis and didn't get a chance to come this year' or, 'We love Memphis and our daughter lives there.'"
The two hope to expand their business later this year with specialty Christmas-themed boxes and food boxes featuring foods from other major cities, as well.