ANN ARBOR – By the Sidewalk is not your average food tour.
It aims to give visitors to Tree Town a glimpse into the city's rich culture, history and cuisine.
Founder and chief eating officer, Aniruddh Gala, became interested in food tours when he and his wife attended one in Montreal two years ago.
"We didn’t know what to expect," he said. "We had a blast. And the nice thing was the guide was very friendly. She told us what we should check out in Montreal and warned us which places were too touristy. It made us think: How cool would it be if you’re traveling to a city or a town and someone local can guide you?"
Founder of By the Sidewalk food tours Aniruddh Gala (Photo: Aniruddh Gala)
An engineer by profession, Gala decided to take a break and try something new when he relocated to the area last summer.
After doing several dry runs with members of Destination Ann Arbor and some hungry friends, By the Sidewalk was up and running in November.
So what can tourgoers expect?
There are two types of guided walking tours: public with a fixed schedule and private.
Generally, private tours are requested for large groups, and can be customized to fit the schedule and needs of those attending.
The more popular option is the public tour, however, which runs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. and costs $47 per person. The tour lasts three hours.
(Photo: Fustini's Oils and Vinegars)
"The idea behind a food tour is not only eating or sampling at every place," said Gala. "It is more about knowing the culture, what Ann Arbor has to showcase. Hence, we go to some specialty food stores where, in my opinion, you won’t find what Fustini’s offers in any other city."
After that it continues to Miss Kim, a Korean restaurant and a member of the Zingerman's Community of Businesses.
"We think it’s a really cool, chic place," said Gala.
The group spends some time at the Farmers Market discussing its history and its role as an Ann Arbor staple.
The next stop is Argus Farm Stop on Liberty. On the way, the tour passes the People's Food Co-op, Tea Haus, Literati, Le Bon Macaron, Sweetwaters, Frita Batidos and the Old German and hears a bit about each business.
Traditional Korean fare at Miss Kim (Photo: Miss Kim Ann Arbor)
Gala chose Argus -- a seven day/week indoor farmers market -- to, "Grow awareness for people about what its doing for the community, how it has become such an integral part of local people’s life. We have a coffee from their bar, but the idea behind it is learning the model behind Argus."
After eating some tacos at Isalita and pizza and appetizers at Mani, the group continues toward State Street and hears about the Michigan and State theaters' history and their importance to locals.
The group catches a quick glimpse of the University of Michigan's central campus before heading towards Iorio's Gelateria, the tour's final stop.
"We take our gelato and go to Nickels Arcade where people hang out after the tour," explained Gala.
(Photo: Iorio's Gelateria)
Tours are given by one of two floating guides. Gala will attend a tour on occasion, to make sure things are running smoothly and to ensure guests are having a good experience.
Part of a good experience is accommodating dietary restrictions the guests might have.
"If someone is vegetarian or vegan we try and accommodate them as well," explained Gala. "Most of the places we go to have substitutions for meat."
With timing and orders worked down to a science, guests can expect warm food at every stop, quick and informative visits and to learn a lot about the city.
"While we are on the streets, we want to show what Ann Arbor is all about: The arts, culture, history, the student life, how it all comes together to make it what it is, which is pretty cool," said Gala. "Our tours are more than (just) coming hungry, it is about the experience of what Ann Arbor is all about."
To learn more about By the Sidewalk and to reserve tickets for a tour, visit its website.
Check out By the Sidewalk's Facebook page.