Whats a Tour Guide to do?

(When last we checked in, I was saying how we are days behind on a web update)….I have a conference call with the web guys followed by several hours of edits.
Afternoon: Wednesday is organization day in my office. And since I woke up feeling a little stressed and frazzled by my lack of food rations at home, I think organization can only help. The month is nearing its end, it is time to update the dominant engine that drives our office: The Big Dry Erase Board.
Evening: A day of dates, details and difficult web edits can be so discouraging and I could use a laugh. And thankfully Rogue Festival starts around town. Tonight seems a splendid night for a little something silly. The lively and lovely Lindsay sells me on the cross promotion of my tours and her comedy shows. My stressful day falls seamlessly to the sidelines. Lindsay and I strike a great deal — suspecting my foodie fans might find Rogue’s comedy an equally delectable feast. rogue

ThursdayColor Me Happy
8:55am: I wake up in panic fearing I will be late to work. It’s five minutes to 9. Then remember I have the day off. and yet each and every Thursday I have the same heart pounding panic attack.
A few hours later: I meet my tour guide, former roommate and friend (that’s all one person) Nancy. Nancy is an excellent tour guide and a talented singer. We’re off to walk and talk on this soggy day. ladies-out-walking-tate-hamilton
7pm: There’s one meeting that I hate to miss: my weekly Weight Watchers meeting. When you do dinners out for work as much as I do, and especially after my year-long binge while designing our newest Food Tour, you need to figure out a way to reign it in. This way works. I love Weight Watchers’ old school approach with its equally modern and relevant ideas. I love walking into a room full of people all seeking a satisfying meal paired with a slender silhouette. I love the old lady who talks about things just seemingly off topic but them reveals some great pearl of age acquired wisdom in the weight department. And I love that this week I am down 1.6 lbs which means… I reached my goal. My Food Tour research pounds are gone and then some. And I stay loyal, week in and week out, to the one “diet” that actually worked after all my crazy juice fast frenzies had failed.

FridayNeed Some Lovin
7:30am: Up and excited to get to work. After a full day off, I suffer slight withdrawal. I miss my foodie friends and could use a hug from a sweet chef or a handsome host. Thankfully Friday is field day for me. I’m out of the office almost all day and off to foster my friendships with each establishment on the tour. I genuinely feel a kinship with these kitchen kings and queens and I love that About Town Taste tours has the ability to share their tasteful talents with our tourists.
9:30am – 12:00pm: I’m off to the famous Frosted Cakery. It’s a great day: Beverly & Megan, mother daughter baking duo, are here in the bakery and they’ve got a few minutes to spare for me. They remind me of my mom a bit – but will a full deck of decadent desserts at her disposal. We catch up for a while. They give me a little piece of chocolate and gently remind me: “Just one.” Frosted Cakery
12pm: Back to the office for lots of emails from customers and private tour requests.
4pm – 8pm: The very best part of my week has arrived. I’m off to visit the owners and managers of all the restaurants on our other food tours around town. I place all my food orders for tomorrow’s tours and use this as a chance to catch up and check on the tours and see how seamlessly they are running. I also love this part of my day because I am in awe of restaurant workers. I love these people — the ones that do this dinner dance in their dimly lit spaces as diners soak up that eternal evening energy.
Later that night: On my way to meet the boss I stop at Pinot Wine Bar to drop off my food orders for tomorrow. Pinot Wine SignEvery week I see the same man, sitting on the same bench, in front of the same shop. I don’t know his name. He speaks little English and wears a hearing aide. Every time I pass by he gives me a nod and a smile as is we have been friends for a lifetime.
Dinnertime: I engage in a regular Friday ritual, dinner with my boss and Erick (our friend, neighbor and colleague at About Town Taste). We dine at the most basic and nondescript spots in an effort to get away from all the fancy food and fine dining. Throughout the planning of our tours, these dinner dates and taste tests revolved around each of the neighborhood tours. It was (and is) a much-loved ritual.

Saturday- Winter Weather Advisory
7:30am: I wake up to winter wind advisory on TV News. Gusts and blowing, icy wind expected. What might be normal non-important small talk for some is make-or-break for our walking tours. A weather warning worries me and I wonder what alternative tour routes I can come up with: Skip the park even though it has loads of art, linger at the Galleria longer since they have multiple eateries in one space for the tastings, do your overview in the sunshine, make sure your tour attendees are warm enough and happy and that no downed trees are in their food-laden path. cold day tour
9:00am: Saturday is our busiest day with several tours all occurring around midday. My job on Saturday is to hang out in front of The Pacific Building (our meeting location and tasting spot on our Urban Taste adventure tour this week) and greet the early arrivals and the latecomers so the tour guides can focus on what they do best.
11:00am: I chat with Nancy about the weather scenario and give her a few tips for which streets are safer to do her tour overview today.
11:30am: I race from one neighborhood to the next to greet the tour attendees on tour. I race back to Fulton to…12:15pm: Greet a gaggle of girls that I set up with one of our Private Food Tours. It’s a bachelorette party but thankfully, a relatively tame one. Moms and Aunts and sisters and friends — all eating their way down Olive Ave with Erick, my guide, at the helm.
4:30pm: Quick visit with a special friend before he starts his evening shift. Then back to my apartment. Rest.

A Gem Restored

The Helm family in Fresno was certainly one of influence.
William Helm made Fresno his home on a five-acre tract of land at the corner of Fresno and R streets. Because of a growing family, William, bought the block where he built the family home in 1881; it stood for 71 years.
As the children married, William gave them lots to build their own homes, along this block that is now the site of Fresno Community Hospital. William’s son, Frank born in 1877, went on to start the Helm Ranch Dairy out near Kearney utilizing the most cutting edge equipment for his heard of registered Holstein cows.

Around 1901, Frank Helm chose to build a home in the city on the oldest residential street; L St. What he built was anything but typical for the day.
Its Mission Revival style adapted elements from early California missions. This was rarely seen in Fresno in that day. With its magnificent wood paneled foyer the home was clearly meant for a family of considerable means.

By 1980 the building was designated a historic resource and the city began working with the family to preserve it.
A local neighborhood ministry had begun locating its offices on the historic L street just doors from Frank Helm’s old house. long They saw an opportunity for outreach in the neighborhood and bought several homes on the street, including the Helm house, with the intention of using them as a campus for their neighborhood work. Yet by 2009 the economy had taken a toll and the dream collapsed.

The battered piece of local history now has a rescuer with deep pockets — the Fresno Housing Authority, its owner. Helm Restoration Scaffolding is up, security fencing is in place, backhoes are digging up the yard. And the exterior restoration just got a new coat of paint. The interior work is expected to be finished soon.
We can hardly wait to see this gem buffed to its original state! Once finished the plan is to use the old Helm house for offices and we are already working on gaining access for our Taste of Graffiti adventures. Meanwhile we still stop on by to see the progress during construction and you can join us this Saturday morning 11am (3/9). Be sure to get your tickets at www.AboutTownTaste.com

…….. now, drum roll.. It’s completed! qsJl7.AuSt.8

The Glamorous Life….

When you say you are the Director of Operations at a Food Tour company, people usually say ‘you must have a glamorous life!’ Well, I didn’t dream of a career in the food industry. I spent many years as an executive assistant working at a tour management company. That is, until I had a life crisis of major proportions.
Finding my then day-to-day job expendable due to the economy I dove head first into working full time as the Director of Operations for About Town Taste adventures. A company that offers walking food & culture tours, in and around Fresno/Clovis.
Supervising the tour guides and maintaining relationships with the staff of the restaurants and other shops in the four local neighborhoods that About Town Taste highlights, I walk the streets of the city to find the best food and the most interesting off-the-beaten path sites in order to create new (or enhance current) Food Tours.
Follow the two part diary to learn about the behind-the-scenes planning, and mishaps, that happen during the tasty adventures of About Town Taste.

Monday- Date Dilemmas
7:00am, 7:15am, 7:30am: Snooze, Snooze, Snooze. I love the morning. But don’t tell that to my night-owl alter ego. She’s devilish.
8:45am: I walk from a small apartment to the office. It’s two blocks. Tough commute.
9:00am: At the office, I’ve got several hours ahead of computer and coffee. Our office coffee is not the most palate pleasing coffee in town and certainly not as good as café Corazon (on the Tower tour) or Fresno Brewing Co (on the Urban Taste tour.) I have a Monday morning meeting with my boss and the owner of About Town Taste. Then I read reviews from this weekend’s tours and check Facebook for any new photo contest submissions. I’m knee-deep in edits for our website. The home page is done and now I’m editing About Us, Contact Us & the FAQs page. Looking spiffy! ATT_Web_PROOF_2b

I create a few contracts for some upcoming private tours: One for a corporate team-building event and the other for a group of high school students. Then I get hit with a cookie emergency. A few last-minute tickets just sold on our Urban Taste tour and I need to call Frosted Cakery and a few other shops to update them. Is it terrible that I know the phone number by heart? Dangerous digits.

Noonish: I just got a call from Gina, who is one-half of (some say the better half) George’s Shish Kebab, a restaurant on our Urban Taste adventure. We have a tour on the street already set to arrive at George’s in 25 minutes. But the food delivery did not arrive today. Translation: we can’t serve (our usual tasting) of the decadent bacon-wrapped date stuffed with Gorgonzola as part of our sampler and some of my tour guides may have already began bragging about that delicious date. We select the ever-reliable eggplant rollatine as the substitute and hope it is equally as edible. We scramble to alert the tour guides. And thankfully, those 15 foodie folks on the tours are none the wiser. To them, it looks seamless — as it should.
2:00pm: I receive an email inquiry from a customer about some severe food sensitivities: He is a gluten intolerant vegetarian who is allergic to mushrooms and tomatoes. This will take some maneuvering since our Urban Taste adventure is like a trip around the world only on a plate… But my business philosophy is that the answer is always, “Yes we can.” I hope he likes artichokes!
Shortly before the dinner hour: It’s my time to hit the streets for some restaurant relations: I stop in to ENZO, our local family owned olive oil artisan, to pick up a few bottles of extra virgin olive oil to pass along to my tour guides. The more the tour guides taste, the more they can talk about their favorite items on the tours. I love force feeding friends small spoonfuls of this stuff and watching their astonishment at how it tastes.
– I make sure to visit with Gina at George’s to find out how the eggplant rollatine tasting went today and check in with Chef Maribel at Joe’s Steakhouse. Chef and I chat about the local food scene. Cook preparing I tell her all about a porchetta sandwich I tasted, which blew me away. Ten times better than the one I tasted from a food truck in Umbria, Italy, the home of porchetta!
Dinnertime: I taste a small bite of zucchini pizza and equally small bite of the potato/rosemary pizza at Mattie’s Wood fire Pizza to taste-test this spot and choose between the two flavors. pizzasWe have been tasting from Mattie’s on the tour for only a few months. We usually wait a while before introducing a new eatery to our tours — but the Italian charm won me over.
Dessert time: Quick stop to Frosted Cakery to pick up snacks for my tour guides. Their Dark Chocolate Toffee cupcake always do the trick. Frosted Cakery I meet my troops. We like to spread the Frosted love whenever we can.
9:30pm: Finally home. Emails back and forth with my tour guides.

Tuesday- Too much of a good thing

Just past 9AM: On my iMac, I’m a 10-windows-open-at-a-time multi-tasker. I’m always trying to fit too much in and end up overloaded. Spin. Crash. Reboot. Its seems our tours might be suffering the same sickness. In an attempt to fill three hours with multiple food tastings and a wealth of tasty historical tidbits, we may have overloaded our tour guides and asked them to engage in a challenging juggling act. An email comes in from one guide: It is becoming tough to fit the two-hour tour into two hours. I peruse the route sheet in an effort to figure out which architectural elements are must-mentions and which can be cut. I hope to have some inspiration from my architecture class later tonight.
Lunchtime but no lunch: All day I am editing the latest version of our On Location, the newsletter that all the tour attendees get with our favorite restaurant recommendations. I’m editing silly simple items like phone numbers, addresses, websites and food recommendations. This takes up a large portion of my day.

6:45pm: Off to class. I’m taking Architecture of CA: 17th century to Present Day. It can only help in tweaking our tours architectural component. Amazing session tonight. And I do indeed think I found a few topical tidbits for the tours that allow us to add some quick architectural references without sacrificing the tastings: How do I spot an original Federal style wooden door from the 1800’s, you ask? Why it has 8 panels! Let me show you one…
9:30pm: I ordered some Chinese food from my current local favorite: Tsing Tao on Willow

Wednesday – The best medicine
9am: The task for the day is to tackle the new website and bring us closer to our season launch date — which we are already two months behind…..

Unapologetic for Human Presence

Fresno’s Fulton Mall is among the earliest, designed by a partnership of Gruen Associates and Garrett Eckbo, who was one of the most highly respected and influential American modernist landscape architects of the 20th century. Working to overthrow the Beaux-Arts system of landscape design which came before he sought to develop an approach that would address the social and economic challenges of the modern world, Eckbo was deliberately experimental, his designs centered on the garden, which he believed was the prototype for all landscape design.

His work was influenced by modernist European architecture, modern art favoring a more casual and fluid use of space, utilizing clustered plant materials, geometric abstraction, and circular space to lend unity to the landscape. In Eckbo’s mind the human pedestrian was part of “a designed landscape that would stress the relations between human and land without apologizing for the human presence.” Eckbo saw landscape architecture as a social art, and to the Fulton Mall, applied principles consistent with many of his civic projects: space between buildings to encourage group gathering, the use of water as a unifying focal element that also animated the public spaces, and the incorporation of shade that reflected the regional palette.
Drawing inspiration from the surrounding valley and Sierra’s he brought the nearby natural context into the city center. The pedestrian mall, constructed of stained concrete punctuated by sometimes gently curving or angular lines, suggests the contours of the valley floor and also provide a utilitarian purpose of assisting with run-off drainage.

Years later, some similar malls, such as Charlottesville remain economically viable, while others in Sacramento, Minneapolis, Allentown and elsewhere have been reopened to vehicle traffic. And Fresno? Well our mall was recently determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but its condition is rather sad and the city has yet to finalize the placement to the register. What’s happening in Fresno is playing out elsewhere in communities with modernist urban landscape architecture as our rich and diverse legacy of modernist landscape architecture struggles for visibility with many of these designs misunderstood and under appreciated.

Join About Town Taste’s next walking adventure experiencing some of Garrett Eckbo’s brilliant work, the Fulton Mall, before its too late. Our tours feature exclusive interior access to some historic buildings and food stops along the route all woven together with stories of those who came before us. Reservations required www.AboutTownTaste.com

Giraffes, fairy’s and gardens

A garden is what you make it. Fairy dusted flower patches, a cocktail garden, a Simon & Garfunkel garden and even a Blue Moon garden? All these themed gardens and more were discovered tucked into a yard full of whimsy on a recent Tower Art Taste adventure.

There is a certain delight in creating a space in your yard for a secret garden. It’s easy to transform an everyday flower patch into something more magical and enchanted by the lore of garden-dwelling fairies; carefree spirits who take great delight in nature’s splendor.

“I didn’t even know what a fairy garden was, but then I started thinking about it, I realized that I have lots of plants with fairy names, so why not put them all together in a garden?” shared our homeowner, Rosalind. ‘Fairy’ geraniums, ‘Elfin’ thyme,’ Apricot Fairy Queen’ foxglove, ‘Elfin’ impatiens, ‘Fairy’ snapdragons, and ‘Fairy Earrings’ fuchsia are just a few of the plants that pay homage to fairy folklore in her garden. Since fairies are small, their garden should be, too.

Rosalind creates tiny fairy-size garden beds with small boxwood, a little river rock bed…because fairies love shiny things, and fuchsias, since fairies and hummingbirds like the bright blossoms. Tuck in few re-purposed children’s toys or some old kitsch and you have the beginnings of a new theme!

Sadly vandals struck and destroyed these whimsical garden vignettes. Taking a few months to recover from the shock of such dastardly acts of lazy sport, the homeowner has once again reclaimed their personal space and the gardens of whimsy are back batter than ever! Pixie-Hollow-Fairy-Garden5

Old Shoe mini garden

Want to check it out? well, join us on the next Tower Art Taste adventure on Saturday morning @ 11am. The Fairy garden is one stop on our little adventure of art, architecture and food tastes all woven together with historic stories of the neighborhood, too. Reserve online at www.AboutTownTaste.com today.