CINCINNATI – When Barb Cooper started Cincinnati Food Tours in 2012, she did so with one goal in mind.
“My bigger mission is to help local mom and pop businesses,” said Cooper.
As Over-the-Rhine, Findlay Market, and Downtown’s restaurant scenes blossomed over the years, Cooper’s food tourism business also blossomed.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit the city.
“It was sad to see how it happened,” said Cooper as he watched restaurants struggle with the pandemic. “You know, so many of them have put their whole life into what they do.”
Cooper’s business also had problems. Before March, participants could register at www.cincinnatifoodtours.com to take a tour of up to five restaurants or shops at the Findlay Market.
These people would learn a little about each place, eat something if possible, and move on to the next. The initial Ohio seating ban that began on March 15 ended most of those tours for Cooper.
“The first thing I did was come up with a Food Tour to Go box, a box that I still have for sale on my website that is a curated gift box of items from five Findlay Market vendors,” said Cooper.
Then she started offering roadside pick-up meals from restaurants on the Rhine. Using an online ordering system, people were able to combine starters, starters, salads and desserts from three to four restaurants. Cooper would collect the food and wait for people to pick it up at the Findlay Market.
“I’ve been doing this for about five weeks,” she said. “We’re also lucky because the Findlay Market is seen as an essential business.”
The general manager of one of Findlay Market’s longtime vendors, Eckerlin Meats, said he feels just as happy that Cooper continues to offer their services and create new ones to serve the market.
“It’s great. It’s a big deal to us,” said Josh Lillis.
Lillis is the sixth generation of his family who work in the butcher shop that opened on Findlay Market in the mid-19th century.
“My father’s whole family, all of his brothers and sisters, he’s one of eight, I’m one of four. So we all worked here,” said Lillis. “There’s just so much going on, so much history, so much knowledge, and Barb does a great job at touching everything.”
When Ohio relaxed its ban on sitting, Cooper readjusted their food tours. Cooper said she was closer to how she conducted her tours prior to March with a few necessary actions.
“We have switched all of our tours to mostly outdoor experiences,” she said. “Regardless of whether we take a tour of the Findlay Market or a tour of the Rhine, we collect the samples in sacks and then take them to an external location for dinner.”
Cooper said she decided to pick up samples and picnics outdoors as restaurants currently have limited seating capacity due to social distancing measures. She doesn’t want to take up more space than necessary in these companies as they continue to try to make ends meet on a limited income.
However, Cooper got at least one pleasant surprise during the pandemic.
“Another thing that was a pleasant surprise, we really got to develop our tour in the Wyoming neighborhood,” she said. “People were kind of drawn to it when they were home.”
At www.cincinnatifoodtours.com, people can learn more about the New Wyoming, Ohio and other Cincinnati Food Tours.