Welcome to Trep Talk! Trep Talk features some of our city’s compelling entrepreneurs who are boldly building what is uniquely Memphis. The spotlight series is curated by Elizabeth Lemmonds, Director of Talent Programs for the EPIcenter.
Welcome back to Trep Talk! This week we shift gears a bit, and get to know Cristina McCarter of City Tasting Tours, which “takes you to neighborhood joints in the heart of the city to experience authentic cooking from various local restaurants.” This isn’t about a product or service as much as it is an experience. And a uniquely Memphis one.
For $55 you can be part of a tasting tour that serves up a generous sample dish at five carefully curated locally owned restaurants. It’s a walking tour, with plenty of background and Memphis history from Cristina along the way and behind-the-scenes interactions with the chefs. Prior destinations include Scoops Parlor, Central BBQ, Rizzo’s Diner, Dyer’s and Cafe Pontotoc. Can I tell you how much I adore this?! And may I add how ridiculously excited I am that she has vegetarian tours available this fall (worry not, omnivores: her regular downtown tours are still going strong)?!
What a fabulous way to check out new-to-you eateries. And seriously (hint, hint): what an intriguing option for visitors who want to experience the Bluff City like a local, or for those eagerly introducing new Memphians to the neighborhood.
But although the concept is what led me to connect with Cristina, I quickly became a fan of hers. It can’t be a surprise at this point that I love to feature passionate local entrepreneurs, who are de facto ambassadors of our community. Cristina’s entire inspiration for her business is her love of Memphis, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more friendly nor enthusiastic! I can’t imagine a better tour guide, and hope you’ll agree. With no further ado…
Give us your elevator pitch!
City Tasting Tours is a cultural food tasting tour where I guide you around the city to eat some of best dishes local restaurants have to offer! We eat, we drink, we meet new people, learn some Memphis history, and have a blast!
What sets you apart?
What sets me apart from other tours in the city would be that I’m a young native Memphian and the fact that it’s not just a food tour. We are truly exploring the city while walking from place to place.
What – or who – was your inspiration?
Kim Hill is the founder of City Tasting Tours and her ability just to do it no matter what it is has been my inspiration. She allowed me to take her idea from 2008 and just run with it! I’m forever grateful to her and all the people in my circle who have told me just to do it.
Did you always know you were destined for entrepreneurship?
I always knew I would be a leader or entrepreneur. When I was younger, I wanted to have a restaurant marketing and consulting firm after working an internship in Emerge Memphis with a company called Alt. Consulting. After working for Yelp and having a food blog for a few years, I realized it would definitely be food related.
What are the most rewarding parts of owning this business?
I don’t think I will hit my biggest or proudest moment for a while, but anytime I hear someone say “I’ve found a new restaurant to come to,” or “I’ve seen Memphis differently now,” I feel like I’ve done a great job today. That’s my whole mission with City Tasting Tours of Memphis. I want to help people fall in love with the city, one plate at a time. That’s how I feel in love with Memphis again – over food and meeting people at bars. It’s so full of culture, and I want people to see it and appreciate it because lots of places don’t have what we have here.
What are the biggest challenges you face as an entrepreneur?
My daily challenge is working full-time and having family time while doing the tours. Also having the finances and time to network. I miss out on so many networking events and opportunities because I don’t have the time. I basically try other ways to network or meet people for quick lunches. I will tweet or direct message someone with no shame. The worst they can say is “no” or just ignore me, but at least I tried.
What is the best piece of advice you were given before launching your own business?
The best advice I was given was from my friend Amy Dobbins. She doesn’t know this, but she jokingly told me not to use the word “fye” anymore. She was like “Cristina, I love you, and I know you from North Memphis but you are a business woman now, and your vocabulary goes further than ‘fye.'” I laughed, but it’s true. I had to realize I own a business now, and I have to be professional. I can still be fun, but I have to be professional now. I love my friends for their honesty.
How do you maintain balance?
I honestly don’t know how I maintain being a wife, mom, full-time worker and now business owner. But I’m doing it, and I love it. I like to call myself Wonder Woman. My husband, my mom, and my friends have all chipped in someway or another too. A Wiseacre Tiny Bomb, a foot rub, and having my kid asleep by 9 pm is a good time for me.
Who’s on your playlist right now?
My playlist ha!! I range from Nina Simone, Deep House, Prince to Uncle Luke. It just depends on the day.
Got any guilty pleasures you’re willing to share?
I still watch Jerry Springer sometimes. And I wish I could wear a purple afro and dance disco everyday.
What are some of your favorite local businesses?
I love all the participating restaurants on my tours. The chefs and staff are just irreplaceable. I love them all!