Nothing connects people to a city like food and drink. Chris Andrews and his wife, Laney own and operate two local food tours, Bienville Bites Food Tour in Mobile and Taste of Fairhope Food Tour in downtown Fairhope. What’s a food tour, you may ask?  In this case, they are walking tours to six of the more iconic eateries in Mobile and Fairhope with a dose of history talk thrown in. 

Both of these tours are very popular and easy to do. Every Friday and Saturday at 2:00 pm, your personal “Food Guide and Resident Historian” will gather up to 16 people at the first stop to begin a three-hour walk to enjoy feasting at local favorite restaurants, cafes, and sweet shops. If you are so inclined, you can add a libation card to your ticket. 

People from all fifty states and around the world have participated. Chris, who was born in Mobile and raised in Saraland, got the idea to start Bienville Bites Food Tour from a friend who experienced a food tour in Savannah, Georgia, and told him all about it when he returned home. Chris, who is a history buff, started thinking about how this might work in Mobile.

At the time, Chris was operating an overhead crane at a steel mill in Calvert, Alabama north of Mobile. He had graduated from Satsuma High School and worked various jobs including driving a mail truck and replacing HVAC systems after Hurricane Katrina. Laney graduated from Troy University and matriculated to Mobile afterward. Friends introduced them, they married that year in November. In October of the following year, they had their first child, a daughter now 10 years old. They have added two boys to the equation, ages 8 and 6.

Chris, Laney, and the kids spent many of their vacations traveling and exploring historic places and landmarks throughout the South. Chris started doing some research online about how food tours worked and came across a guy in Chicago who had a program called Food Tour Pros. He signed up for the program, went to Chicago, and learned how to start a food tour business. “There was a lot of business coaching,” he says. “I studied how to start a food tour, the marketing and social media aspects, as well as how to manage people.”

He began reaching out to restaurants within walking distance of each other in Mobile, especially those that had history to tell. He was well received. The key was to visit them during their slow times, between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm. Chris focused on six restaurants around the Dauphin Street Entertainment District. Each stop would be about 25 minutes before going  to the next establishment. Each restaurant would have everything ready and serve one of its signature dishes.

In October 2017, Bienville Bites Food Tour was born. What started as a side gig for Chris and Laney, soon became so popular Chris left his job at the steel mill to focus full-time on the new venture. There’s a little bit of science to the program. Each establishment must easily manage 16 people and be ready to deliver a good experience. “Consistency is key,” says Chris.

As the tours began to take off in Mobile, Chris added a themed food tour around Mardi Gras called the Floats and Food Trolley Tour where the group does the food tour and then watches a parade and enjoys some King Cake. He added a Fall tour called the Bites and Frights Food Tour and a Murder Mystery Tour during the summer months. These, too, have become very popular, and each tour includes stops at restaurants and landmarks to talk about the history and local lore.

In 2020, he began thinking of adding a second food tour program in Fairhope. “It’s a tourist town with a lot of unique history and culture,” he says. “And it’s walkable.” Of course, Covid delayed plans. “We are probably the only food tour in the world that started during Covid.” But he pressed on. 

“While 2020 was certainly challenging, 2021 was the most challenging,” says Chris. “There was so much turnover in the restaurant industry. It was a revolving door and very inconsistent from day to day and week to week. It was a difficult time. I spent a lot of time preparing for the rebound.” Things got back on track in 2022, and business has been good.

In Mobile, the Bienville Bites Food Tour starts at the Ruby Slipper Café, a brunch and breakfast shop. The next stop is Squid Ink, where guests taste fried calamari and paella fritters.  Next is Three Georges. It was opened in 1917 by three Greek immigrant men, all named George. One wanted to open a candy and chocolate shop, one a sandwich shop, and the third a soda fountain. They couldn’t agree so their wives stepped in and told them to do all three, which the shop still offers today.

The tour proceeds to Wintzell’s Oyster House, which opened in 1938. The guests get an oyster sampler of  Rockefeller, Bienville, Monterrey, and Chargrilled with a side of fried pickles. Next up is Moe’s Original BBQ for a rib and a wing served with famous Alabama White BBQ sauce. The last stop is Mo’Bay Beignet for beignets and syrup. 

In Fairhope, the Taste of Fairhope Food Tour starts at Provision for their West Indies Avocado Toast. Next, after a brief stop at the Fairhope Museum, is Panini Pete’s in the French Quarter for a panini and a beignet. Then the Bay Breeze Café for their delicious Roasted Corn Tomato Bisque and grilled cheese bites.

Along the way, the guides talk about jubilees, the Arts and Crafts Festival each Spring, and the art community itself that evolved from the native red clays found in the area. (After the tour, the guests are experts on the Fairhope Single Tax Colony.) 

To break the food consumption, the next stop is the Happy Olive where the group samples two different combinations of olive oil and vinegar. It’s an education on how to enjoy the full flavor and taste. Dragonfly is next on the tour for Firecracker Shrimp Tacos and Turnip Fries. The piece de resistance is a Fairhope Float at Mr. Gene’s Beans. “It’s incredible,” says Chris.

This food tour business is natural for Chris. He loves history, folklore, and good food. What’s not to like? He has well-educated guides that conduct the tours and Chris is adding new experiences all the time. “Food tours are unique because of the food and drink experience. When you sit down and share food, it creates a bond.” Both food tours are popular for corporate events, tourists visiting the area, and especially local friends and families. 

Chris can accommodate private groups that may involve different restaurants. All tours are wheelchair-accessible, and children’s tickets are available. Laney has recently joined FUSE Project in Mobile as their Education Director, but she’s still very much involved. “She has million-dollar ideas!” says Chris.

The Bienville Bites Food Tour is $62 or $77 with cocktails. The Taste of Fairhope Food Tour is $72 or $89 with cocktails. To schedule a tour, go to their website, for a calendar of available tours, or give Chris a call at 251 622-4041. Be sure to check out Chris’ podcast, Port City Plate found on Apple or Spotify, or anywhere you listen to podcasts. He also has a blog on Facebook that discusses, what else, food; like the Ten Best Restaurants, and the Ten Most Iconic Dishes. 

Linda and I can’t wait to do both tours. Sounds like a great time!

Jan 18, 2023
People & Business Profiles

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