When it kicks off its inaugural round on April 28, NEO Food Tours will use the power and draw of area restaurants to introduce diners to neighborhoods.
"Restaurants have been absolutely vital to the success of Cleveland's neighborhoods," tour founder Todd Gauman says over beers at ABC Tavern. "The West Side Market has been in Ohio City for over 100 years, but it took Great Lakes Brewing Co. to really set things in motion. Look at what Lola did for Tremont."
For Gauman, a longtime events organizer, the germ for a culinary-themed adventure was born.
"These restaurants give people a reason to come explore these neighborhoods," he says.
Every other Thursday evening, Gauman and his team will lead curious, hungry explorers through Cleveland's historic neighborhoods. Their partners in this adventure are the chefs and restaurateurs who call those blocks home.
The all-weather walking tours will feature between four and six restaurants within the featured 'hood. At each stop, attendees will sit, eat, drink, and chat with the chef or owner (or both). Progressive in nature, the offerings will move from starter to main to dessert.
Up first is Ohio City, with Dragonfly, Momocho, Light Bistro, and Flying Fig on the dance card. Future tours will tastefully explore Little Italy, Tremont, East Fourth Street, and Shaker Square.
Gauman named his company Mandala Collective, in honor of his appreciation of the symbolism of the temporary Buddhist works.
"Mandalas are these beautiful works of art done in sand that exist for a brief time before being wiped away," he explains. "I look at events the same way. We do all this planning and then it's gone, and you start fresh on the next one."
Here's hoping Gauman's food tours are here to stay. Tickets are $75 per person; go to clefoodtours1.eventbrite.com. — Trattner