by Kira Bellis
From Marchiano’s to McNally’s, Chew Philly Food Tours recently expanded from Manayunk to Chestnut Hill.
In 2011, Elyse Castillo created Chew Philly Food Tours. On tours, which run from March through November, a tour guide takes a group to about six establishments. In total, they eat a progressive lunch, hear a little local history, and see European-esque architecture.
“The idea behind Chew Philly is to give back to small businesses,” Castillo said. “We show locals and visitors great food in neighborhoods northwest of the city.”
Previous work experience prepared Castillo well for her business.
“I used to give boat tours in Chicago and absolutely loved my job,” she said. “I was a food and beverage director at one point, too.”
After living in the Midwest, Castillo moved east to Baltimore with her husband, Jason Blank. “When our newborn son was only six days old, we moved to Manayunk,” Castillo said. “Here in Philadelphia, my husband has generations of family history.”
One day when Blank was on a trip in New York, he saw an advertisement for pizza tours in the city. When he came home, he brought it to Castillo’s attention.
With the food tour concept in mind, Chew Philly was born. The business combines Castillo’s passion for food and tourism.
Castillo balances the roles of founder, VP of marketing and operations and sometime tour guide. She enjoys having her own business because, as she said, “I can work on my own terms and I have a more flexible schedule.”
The first walking tour Castillo created was in Manayunk. It is convenient since she lives in the neighborhood and knows the restaurants well.
The family friendly vibe and the more than 300-year history of Manayunk reflects the culture Castillo aims to show off. Just this year, Chew Philly has already brought about 10,000 people into Manayunk for tours.
Surprisingly, 75 percent of tour participants live within 50 miles of Manayunk.
“They find new spots they can go to again and again, especially around the holidays,” said Castillo.
Meanwhile, the other 25 percent of tour participants are out-of-towners, Castillo said.
“Our food tours take them off the beaten track of Philly and introduce new clientèle for the businesses,” she added.
The Manayunk tour starts off at Marchiano’s Bakery, where famous people such as Frank Sinatra have eaten. Then, the group goes to Tasty Twisters, a pretzel bakery with a recipe more than 100 years old. Next, the tour visits Sorrentino’s for a cheesesteak.
After that, they go to Lucky’s Last Chance for the award-winning peanut butter and bacon burger, which sounds unusual.
“This burger ends up being a favorite on the tour,” Castillo noted
Then, the tour heads over to Breakin Bread Bakery. There, they eat sticky buns, a food “locals are surprised to hear is actually a local food,” said Castillo. Breakin Bread worked on their sticky bun recipe for nine years in order to perfect it.
Last on the tour is Sweet Elizabeth’s, where everyone samples an authentic red velvet cupcake with cream cheese icing.
During the two weeks around Halloween in October, there is a special Haunted Food Tour in Manayunk. On this tour, participants try pumpkin patty melts and Halloween cupcakes.
For quite a few years, Castillo watched her business succeed. As a result, she created another touring location right here in Chestnut Hill.
Castillo already knew the Hill because she often took her son to Jenk’s playground. While there, she met young families and knew the community would be great for a food tour.
The Chestnut Hill tours, currently given by Castillo herself, started in July of this year.
“I like giving the initial tours myself to test the product, tweak, and create relationships with shop owners,” she said.
Eventually, Castillo will hire tour guides who live in Chestnut Hill, similar to how the Manayunk tour guides must live in Manayunk. By doing so, it adds authenticity and neighborhood knowledge to the tour.
On the Chestnut Hill tours, the groups starts at McNally’s, home of the famous Schmitter. From there, they stop at the Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop to sample cheese and wine pairings. Next, the tour visits Taste of Olive for an olive oil and balsamic tasting tutorial. After that, they go to Iron Hill Brewery for craft beer paired with seasonal food.
Following all of the drinks, appetizers, and lunch food, the group hits a couple of places for dessert.
First up is Bredenbeck’s, to try some pound cake. Following is the Night Kitchen for brownies.
If you’re interested in going on Chew Philly’s Chestnut Hill Culinary Tour, enter the promo code “CHLOCAL” at purchase to receive half- price tickets.
Going on a Chew Philly tour differs from other food tours in the city because it’s broader. As Castillo said, “It’s not just beer or cheesesteaks.”
Although Castillo and her team have a lot on their plate, if they were to expand, Castillo could possibly see creating a Mount Airy tour.
A priority of Chew Philly is to continue donating to the Food Trust. This organization, operates farmer’s markets, helps corner stores learn how to stock healthy foods, and teaches public school kids how to eat right.
Chew Philly Food Tours give participants a chance to eat a filling meal, enjoy the neighborhood, and get to talk with friends.
For more information, visit www.phillyfoodtours.com.