The month of August marks 7 years that TOURific Escapes has been operating as a Hollywood tour company. We never envisioned back in 2010 that we would make it this far. We have a lot of people to thank for our success but before we do that, let’s take a walk down Memory Lane and see how TOURific Escapes was born.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
When companies were downsizing and people losing their jobs in 2008/2009, Matt and I both found ourselves in the same boat. I was laid off from a toy corporation and Matt was a private pilot. He found himself a pilot without a plane to fly. When I took coursework to become a certified tour guide, Matt encouraged me to build my own brand instead of helping other companies build their brands. By spring 2010 it was clear we were going to start a business. Thanks to the generosity of my parents, otherwise known as “The Bank of Mom and Dad”, we got a loan and did two things, bought a vehicle and built a website. Then the question was, where and what kind of tour should we create?
Los Angeles welcomes more than 40 million visitors annually and is the second most-visited destination in the United States. Hollywood is the #1 tourist attraction in Los Angeles. Sightseeing tours have been around for decades. In fact Starline Tours has been in business since 1935, known then as the Movie Stars Homes Tour. It all started when Sid Grauman, creator of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, suggested to his chauffeur that the public might be interested in seeing the homes of celebrities. Now Starline Tours is the oldest and biggest tour operator in Hollywood.
CREATING OUR FIRST TOUR
We decided Hollywood was where we needed to be but we didn’t want to offer just another traditional sightseeing tour. Because we like to eat out at LA’s many restaurants, and because food tasting tours have been gaining in popularity here in Los Angeles and across the world, we decided to combine both sightseeing and food tasting. In fact a recent travel study shows that 75% of Americans report food and dining play an important part in their travel plans. So our first tour, Hollywood Sites & Bites, was born.
On August 12, 13 and 14 a brave group of our friends and family boarded our 15 passenger vehicle with Matt behind the wheel as our driver and yours truly as tour guide. We had mapped out the route, wrote the commentary, had six restaurants willing to participate, but needed some practice. Those were some hot August days for sure, but we created special memories while launching our tour business. We always said we wanted to share a unique Hollywood story with our food tastings, and we chose places that were considered landmarks or hidden gems, were family-owned or celebrity-chef owned, or a combination of all. They had to provide good quality food and service, and nearby parking was preferred.
OUR TASTING STOPS
Our original tasting stops were Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles, Susan Feniger’s STREET, Sweet Lady Jane, Greenblatt’s Deli, Mashti Malone’s and Chado Tea House. As things changed over the years, we have added and dropped some of these places. We were devastated when STREET closed but that led us to our sidewalk pizza party at Mozza2go. When Roscoe’s didn’t want to play anymore, we found the wonderful crack bacon at Grub Restaurant. When Grub’s weekend crowd became too big, we found Loteria Grill for Saturday and Sunday tours. Two of our restaurants have been with us since day one. We appreciate Jeff, the owner of Greenblatt’s Deli, and brothers Mashti and Medi, the owners of Mashti Malone’s, for their support of our tour business from the very beginning.
I can’t forget our short lived Santa Monica Sites & Bites tour which focused on the dinner hours. We had some great tasting partners, but seemed to change partners every week. Maybe someday we will bring it back. We also now offer a seasonal specialty Chocolate Indulgence Tour which runs October thru May in Culver City. And for a non-food tour don’t miss our Celebrity Insider Movie Locations Tour in which we partner with esteemed entertainment journalist Sandro Monetti for some good movie-themed fun. That tour steps out of Hollywood to also include filming locations in Beverly Hills and Century City.
TOP RATED ON TRIP ADVISOR
When our guests write reviews, they appreciate the Hollywood history and trivia I share with them during the walking portion of the tour but the true highlight of the tour is the food tasting for most. We could not provide this part of the tour without the support and participation of our partner restaurants. So we would like to thank our current Sites & Bites partners Grub Restaurant, Loteria Grill, Mozza2go, Greenblatt’s Deli, John Kelly Chocolates, The Confection Co-op, and Mashti Malone’s Ice Cream Parlor for providing not only delicious sweet and savory tastings, but personal customer service and warmly welcoming our tour groups. An extra thanks to Mashti Malone’s for letting this tour guide get behind the counter and scoop ice cream when they are busy with their regular customers.
Speaking of reviews, we are so grateful for the more than 700 guests who have taken the time to visit Trip Advisor to leave remarks and recommendations. Trip Advisor is the world’s largest travel site and we are so proud to represent the tourism sector in Los Angeles with our top-ratings. Currently we are rated #1of 40 in the Food & Drink category in Los Angeles. This is because we keep a careful pulse on the restaurants we visit and the foods we are serving. As long as our guests continue to love the food, we are happy. In fact at the end of the tour I always ask what the favorite tastings were. Many times guests say they can’t choose a favorite because they were all so different and they loved them all.
CHANGES TO OUR BUSINESS
One big change to our business is that I am now the driver and guide for the Sites & Bites tours. Instead of the 15 passenger turtle-top van, I drive a Toyota Sienna that comfortably seats seven guests. There is surround sound and strong air-conditioning and even a little compartment that holds chilled bottles of water. Matt is still very much part of TOURific Escapes but he has gone back to his primary profession in aviation. Among many other things, it’s thanks to him that my blog posts get published on our website.
So as we wrap up our anniversary celebration, we want to thank everyone who has had a part in our growth and success over these first seven years. Whether you are a friend or family member, customer from here in the US or abroad, one of our bloggers or restaurant tasting partners, WE THANK YOU . We also have one special hotel, The Magic Castle Hotel in Hollywood, whose staff often recommends our tours to their guests. We also love that news about our Sites & Bites spreads by word of mouth. This summer we had at least four families from the same neighborhood in New Jersey who all told one another about us! I am often asked the best part of my job as a tour guide & tour operator and I always say it is the friendships I make along the way while representing this great city we call Los Angeles. This small business owner welcomes you, for a first visit or a return visit, to enjoy a Sites & Bites tour to help us ring in the next seven years!
By Trish Procetto, foodie & chocoholic