John and Jamie Baylor launched Winter Garden Food Tours last month with both dinner and lunch tours
WINTER GARDEN Ever since their first date together at Chef's Table At the Edgewater, John and Jamie Baylor have been intrigued by the food scene in Winter Garden.
“We came came down here to have dinner, and we were blown away with what we saw,” John said.
That date sparked a mutual passion for both Winter Garden and its many restaurants, so much so that the couple decided to start a food tour business featuring nearly every restaurant in the downtown strip.
“This place was tailor made for it,” John said.
The journey to starting a food tour business was triggered after Jamie purchased her husband a monthly excursion package for Christmas last year. Included in the package were several food tours in the central Florida region, which became the inspiration for their own business in Winter Garden.
“We realized we could do this at home, and we could do it better,” Jamie said.
But the planning process was a long one that involved dozens and dozens of trips to restaurants in Winter Garden.
“We ate and we ate and we ate and we ate,” Jamie said. “Every Thursday was date night.”
Their goal was to identify unique food items to feature on the tour that would be cost-friendly and sharable among several people. Throughout the planning process, the couple also began building relationships with each restaurant in town and told them of their intention to start a food tour. The reception to the idea was nothing but positive.
After weeks of planning and working with restaurants, the couple approached city officials for permitting, which was granted. From there, they organized the tour - a dinner tour and a lunch tour each featuring their favorite and unique food choices from each restaurant.
“Everything on the tour is very good because we’ve done our homework,” John said.
Each tour lasts about two with between five and seven different stops along the way depending on the tour.
“Our tours are two hours, but they tend to go an extra hour because people want to stick around after,” Jamie said.
With this in mind, each tour ends at either Axum, Plant Street Market or Pilars Martini, and almost no one goes home hungry.
“It is meant to fill you by the end of the tour,” John said.
So far the couple has only been officially open for business for a month, but they’ve already mastered the art of giving a tour around Winter Garden. Each tour starts at the fountain in the middle of Plant Street and while John provides the commentary, Jamie goes ahead of the group to prepare each restaurant before they arrive.
“We really believe the way we set up our tour is better than most,” John said.
As they were creating their business, the couple decided to keep their groups small - about six people maximum. Not only did this make it easier for restaurants to seat and serve them, but they found that smaller groups meant that the participants were more likely to make new friends and enjoy themselves. They also wanted to blend into the small-town vibes of Winter Garden.
“It’s still very much a hometown community,” John said. “Everybody knows everybody.”
The only clue as to their presence in downtown Winter Garden is the small orange pin John will wear on his shirt during each tour. But regardless of which tour it is, John said there is always one ultimate goal.
“We want to wow them every step of the way,” he said.
In addition to eating a variety of foods, chefs at several restaurants talk with the group about the food that they’re eating and what makes it different from other restaurants.
“If (food) is ordinary, it’s not on our tour,” John said.
In addition to food samplings, the tours make stops at some of the dessert and snack shops around town, including Ms. Bee’s Gourmet Popcorn and Kaebisch Chocolate. And whenever a restaurant has approached the couple about being included on the tour, John and Jamie always say yes.
“We don’t want to exclude anyone,” Jamie said. “If they want to be part of the tour, we’ll add them.”
As a result, the couple has added a third tour on Saturday afternoons and are currently working on creating a dessert tour and an art-themed tour.
Although their focus is the food, the couple also focuses on Winter Garden itself during each tour, sharing the history of the city with each group. They even include historic stops along the way, such as The Heritage Museum and the Edgewater Hotel.
“It’s really cool to show people what’s happening here,” John said.
During John’s commentary as the group strolls through the streets of downtown, he often pulls out a tablet to show the group old photos of downtown Winter Garden to explain its history.
“We’re trying to promote the town as much as the restaurants,” Jamie said.
So far, they’ve done a handful of tours since they opened, and they’re eager to add more to their list.
“It’s been such a journey to get here,” Jamie said.
Contact Brittany Gaines at [email protected].