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Updated: July 1, 2020

Foodie tour operator pivots to outdoor history walks across Maine

Courtesy / Maine Foodie Tours A party of two took part in June in one of Maine Foodie Tours’ first history tours in Portland.

After a decade of providing culinary tours that depend on going inside eateries and retail shops along Maine's seacoast, Maine Foodie Tours has pivoted to offer outdoor history walks.

The outdoor historical tours are offered in Kennebunkport, Biddeford, Portland, Brunswick and Bar Harbor, and are being launched as restaurants across the state move to outdoor dining and limited indoor seating. 

Tours are limited to eights guests who, with their guide, wear masks and practice physical distancing.  

“Last year we offered one historical walking tour in Portland and it was a wonderful experience for our guides and guests,” said Pamela Laskey, founder of Maine Foodie Tours. “Since all of our tours offer a significant piece of history and culture, the tour guides have easily adapted and enjoyed the new training. 

"Plus, we are all excited that this is our bicentennial year and there are so many stories of Maine residents and their accomplishments to share.”

The history tours are designed to appeal to Mainers on a “staycation” as well as visitors abiding by the COVID-19 prevention guidelines. They explore social, cultural and maritime events that helped shape each location. A percentage of revenue will go to local historical societies. 

Maine Foodie Tours was named as one of Mainebiz’s fastest growing companies in 2016.

Laskey launched the company in June 2009 in Portland, when the city was starting to be on the map for foodie tourists, she told Mainebiz.  

Previously, she had a career in higher education publishing in Boston. The Portland tour proved successful, so she expanded to Kennebunkport, Bar Harbor, Boothbay, Rockland and Brunswick.

The tours — primarily walking tours of two or three hours — are designed to be an educational experience that spans history, community, culture, activities and food and beverage, she noted. Laskey has developed scripts over the years that contain pertinent information for her guides to use. The tours primarily draw visitors to Maine.

The business grew primarily through word of mouth and good reviews. She began creating packages with hotels, other tour operators, and trolley and bus companies. One contract, for example, has come through Road Scholar, an educational travel company for adults. 

In 2019, she employed 30 guides and had around 10,000 guests. At the height of the summer, in a given day, as many as 15 tours in six towns might be underway. The jaunts take place at different times of day; the most popular is morning, which leads up to lunchtime.

“We’ll visit, usually, six to seven establishments” ranging from restaurants, distilleries and breweries to specialty food shops like chocolatiers, bakeries and cheese and fish mongers, she said.

Along the way, businesses provide tastings, along with presentations, that add up to a full meal by the end, she noted. Laskey pays the businesses 40% to 60% of the company’s revenues. Over time, she said, they usually give her a bit of a discount because they recognize the benefit of the exposure. 

“But my goal has always been to support the community and the businesses we visit,” she added.

The company’s growth rate from 2018 to 2019 was 9%.  

With the pandemic, Laskey stopped operations in mid-March. After obtaining a Paycheck Protection Program loan, she began working with her guides to develop the outdoor history tours, leveraging historical information that was already encapsulated in the culinary tours.

“There’s already a fair amount of history on each tour anyway,” she said. “One of my guides said, ‘Let’s just do some straight history tours because we’ve e got a lot of historical material here.”

The majority of the team stayed on to start writing and rehearsing new scripts. The team worked for six months to develop routes with notable characters, stories and history, ranging from the formation of Maine in the 1820 “Missouri Compromise” to the state’s role during the Civil War to the advent of industries and migration of workers from around the world.

Courtesy / Maine Foodie Tours
Maine Foodie Tours guides train for the company’s new history tour in Brunswick.  

“I couldn’t have undertaken this on my own,” Laskey said.

The history tours are now on the Maine Foodie Tours website, along with safety protocols to be followed while the tours are underway. Participants must check a box saying they’ve agreed to the protocols, said Laskey. In addition, she said, the company calls participants 24 hours before the tour to provide verbal notification of the protocols, and to check on whether out-of-state visitors have followed the state’s guidelines for entering Maine.

“I’m not wiling to compromise my guides’ health and safety,” she said. “They’re a treasured asset. So we have a multi-tiered approach to enforcing the guidelines.”

Courtesy / Maine Foodie Tours
Maine Foodie Tours founder Pamela Laskey wears a face shield donated to the company by Flowfold, a manufacturer of travel and gear based in Gorham.

Nevertheless, the marketing focus for now is on Mainers, she said. By last week, she had sold nine tickets, for two two-person parties who took the Portland history tour and for a family of five who commissioned a private hybrid tour in Portland that included the history component and a lobster lunch.

The company plans to work the latter in as a regular offering. Plans also include adapting the culinary tours, and a new hybrid tour was created for Kennebunkport. 

“Given that we are only beginning the new line of history tours, I’m confident they will take off,” said Laskey. 

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July 1, 2020

Thank you for sharing this story. Maine Foodie Tours will continue to offer our culinary tours as it makes sense for our partners and safe for all. I don't want readers to assume that the addition of historical tours minimizes our commitment going forward. We are all anxious to resume!

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