Angela Shen, CEO and Founder of the award-winning Savor Seattle food tours, will be speaking at the first Global Food Tourism Conference on Oct 19-20 in Chicago, IL. We sat down with Angela for a quick interview on her experience in the food tourism industry.
1. Tell us a little about Savor Seattle Food Tours, how it started and how it has grown over the years.
I started Savor Seattle in March 2007, so we just celebrated our 8 year anniversary this year. We started with just one tour, the food and cultural tour of Pike Place Market and it still remains our most popular, and flagship offering. Each year following, we’ve launched a new tour each season and today offer six different food and cultural walking tours plus one 3-day/2-night gourmet kayaking expedition in the San Juan Islands. I ran everything by myself for the first six months then hired our first employee—a tour guide. This year we had 32 people in peak season and 23 in slow season.
2. What drew you to the food tourism industry?
I grew up in a restaurant family and have always loved the power of food. It is a universal language that brings people from all backgrounds and languages together. I also worked for Quaker Oats in Chicago after college, cutting my teeth on brand management working on iconic, established food brands such as Quaker Oatmeal and Life Cereal, and also launching brand new brands such as Oatmeal to Go. It was a great opportunity to learn how to manage a multimillion dollar food brand P&L on someone else’s dime!
When I moved to Seattle 9 years ago, I was so impressed by the fresh and local produce, seafood, wine, and cheese. I couldn’t help but wonder if locals realized how good they had it in their own backyard! Seeing Seattle’s culinary landscape as a tourist allowed me to appreciate it and understand what would be interesting from a visitor’s standpoint.
3. As a business owner in the industry, what resources have you used to learn and grow your business?
Very early on, I reached out to others in the culinary tourism industry. Some of those key people who have made an indelible impact on me as a business owner and as a person, are Todd Leflovic from Foods of NY, Michele Toper from Boston Food Tours, and Shane Kost from Chicago Food Planet. Over the years, as new food tour operators reached out to me for advice in starting their own tours, I found that I often learned from their approaches and ideas too! I also go on at least one food tour every time I travel, with over 70 different food tours attended to date. I find that there is always something to be learned to improve upon what we are doing.
4. Food tourism has been gaining more and more momentum in recent years. How have you seen the industry grow/change over the years and where do you see it moving in the future?
I think we are past the initial big rush of start ups, and now is a time where operators are at a critical juncture in their business – should I stay or should I go? Meaning that many are looking to sell their businesses, while a few are looking to get really really big. And with the industry being as fragmented as it is currently, I do think there will be an opportunity for consolidation.
To be successful over the long haul, I think food tour operators will need to invest in their businesses in ways that other businesses do, and start creating much stronger barriers for entry, or at the very least, make it more challenging for competition to scale their businesses without significant investment such as the ones you have made. Keeping in mind all of the reasons why it was so compelling to get into food tours to begin with, that allure still exists! So to stay ahead and succeed, you can’t treat it like a small cottage business.
5. Why are you participating in the first Global Food Tourism Conference? What are you most looking forward to?
I’ve always believed in giving back to this industry by sharing my insights and experience so that everyone can help drive this industry to higher heights. I wouldn’t be where I am today without mentors and friendships that have been forged out of this business.
I look forward to learning! There will be so many attendees that will provide great guidance for uncharted waters for all of us.
6. Can you give a little sneak peak into what you’ll be discussing in your talk at GFTC?
I will be speaking about how to scale a business with operations, infrastructure and people.
Don’t miss Angela Shen and many other speakers and panelist at the first-ever Global Food Tourism Conference in Chicago on Oct 19-20. Visit our conference page to see who’ll be there and get registered!