Otehlia Cassidy founded Madison Eats Food Tours in 2012 as a way of connecting people to each other and the food in their neighborhoods.
"There's a lot of richness of diversity in our community, and food tours are one way to connect people to that," said Cassidy, who works with locally owned restaurants and small food artisans.
Cassidy runs a regular downtown tour around the Capitol Square. Her Willy Street tour runs April-October on Thursday evenings. She's starting a Dane County Farmers' Market tour Wednesday mornings this summer.
A Latino Market Tour is coming up Feb. 23 in Sun Prairie, and Cassidy is making plans for an artisan food tour at Common Wealth Development, a business incubator on the near east side.
Cassidy also runs a destination tour to Mexico; this year, March 2-10, is sold out but Feb. 22-March 1, 2020, just opened up. She's looking to develop a culinary tour in Cuba.
"2019 is a year of growth," she said.
The Atwood Brew and Chew tour ($69/person) is the first tour Cassidy offered, and in large part the businesses have all stayed the same. On a recent chilly day in early February, she took a group of diners to six different spots on the near east side, about 1.5 miles in all.
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Tex Tubb's Taco Palace, 2009 Atwood Ave., was the first stop on the Atwood Brew and Chew Tour. Guests sampled green chile chicken tacos with roasted poblano sour cream and a classic margarita.
Othelia Cassidy, founder of Madison Eats Food Tours, shares some history of the Schenk-Atwood neighborhood with the group at Tex Tubb's Taco Palace.
Table Wine owner Molly Moran, center, tries to keep the wines in her store priced less than $25 because people are more likely to take a risk if it’s not expensive.
Molly Moran, owner of Table Wine at 2045 Atwood Ave., pours a barbera d'Asti from Italy.
Monsoon Siam serves touring guests kanom jeeb, minced pork, chicken and water chestnuts wrapped in wonton skin and served with black sweet Thai soy sauce.
Staff at Monsoon Siam, 2045 Atwood Ave., prepare a dish for participants on the Atwood Brew and Chew Tour.
Dutdao "Pooh" Wonglaka, chef and owner of Monsoon Siam, always prepares something different for Cassidy's groups. "She's an artist," Cassidy said.
Jua Vang jokes with the group at Monsoon Siam, a Thai restaurant at 2045 Atwood Ave.
The third stop of the day was Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier. The business can sell 3,000 to 5,000 dark chocolate-covered salted caramels every week.
The group stopped by NutKrack, Eric Rupert's new candied pecan store, on the Atwood Brew and Chew Tour.
NutKrack, owned by Epic Systems executive chef Eric Rupert, sells caramelized pecans on Atwood Avenue.
Kellen Rupert, son of owner and chef Eric Rupert, works at NutKrack at 2086 Atwood Ave. The shop sells only caramelized pecans.
Nutkrack took over the former Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier space on Atwood Avenue.
Participants on the Atwood Brew and Chew Tour hosted by Madison Eats Food Tour walked about 1.5 miles.
Bride-to-be Allison Eisenbeis combined bachelorette party with a Madison Eats Food Tour of the near east side of Madison. Here she enjoys a cheese curd at Next Door Brewing Co.
The group finished off the tour with some beers and bar snacks at Next Door Brewing Company.
Otehlia Cassidy is the owner of Madison Eats Food Tours, which she launched in 2012 to connect locals and visitors with the diversity in Madison's restaurant scene. She leads regular tours on the Capitol Square and on Williamson Street during warmer months, and she's about to take her fourth group on a culinary tour in Mexico.