Meals excursions supply a style of NM historical past and delicacies

MARLA BROSE / JOURNAL
Nick Peña, right, stops in Scalo and leads a group on Nibble Nob Hill, a tour of Nob Hill restaurants and specialty stores, one of his Food Tour New Mexico offerings.

Nick Peña is the kind of self-proclaimed foodie who has to photograph all meals at the table before the first bite.

He is fascinated by the presentation of a dish, the color, the aroma – all elements that tell a story about the origin of the food, the people who cook the food and the city in which they live.

“Eating is an education, it’s an experience, and it’s historical,” said Peña, a 32-year-old Albuquerque resident. “You can really get to know a city through its food.”

Peña wanted others to get to know his hometown of Santa Fe through its cuisine. With a website, business relationships in five restaurants, and an ambitious mindset, Peña launched Food Tours New Mexico in May 2011 with its own funds.

Food tours take visitors to various restaurants where they can explore traditional dishes, new restaurant concepts, and learn about the city by going to each restaurant.

An NM taste

Peña first learned about the food tour concept in Scottsdale, Arizona, where his high school friend ran a successful food tour business. He decided to start his own business and planned his first food tour around the new Mexican food.

With each tour lasting around 2½ hours and stopping at five different restaurants, Peña spends time educating visitors about the difference between new Mexican flavors and Tex-Mex and Mexican dishes.

As a naturally sociable person, Peña said the tour guide job was a perfect match for his personality. He is constantly on the move and has contact with people from different countries, even with tourists who have come from outside the country.

“I love that food brings people together,” said Peña.

Those taking the food tour later asked Peña if he knew of any other restaurants he should visit, which prompted him to plan a second tour that focused on various Santa Fe food trends.

“People didn’t know Santa Fe was such a culinary destination outside of New Mexican food,” said Peña. “The farm-to-table scene is big here because we have a lot of local farms and ranches.”

Eric Donovan, owner of the tour stop Santa Fe Olive Oils and Balsamico Company, said Peñas Food Tour Company is helping small businesses get more customers. “He’s a smart guy and very knowledgeable about the products in this area,” said Donovan. “He also helps us with cross-marketing and gives me tips that will help us promote our business.”

Build success

After his success in Santa Fe, Peña has set its sights on Albuquerque. He moved to Albuquerque in 2013 and his first local tour featured restaurants in Nob Hill, just two blocks from where he lives.

“I was lucky because everyone I spoke to really understood the concept, so the first five places I visited were on board,” said Peña.

One of those places was Yannis, a Mediterranean restaurant on Central Avenue.

“I thought he had an innovative idea and we drove with it because we love to share our food, get the things on our menu known and also help us as a company,” said Chris Komis, owner of Yanni’s.

Peña’s second Albuquerque food tour visited new Mexican restaurants in Old Town, and his latest tour will focus on craft beer in the area.

With only four part-time employees, Peña’s company is small but growing. Food Tours New Mexico sold 300 tickets in 2011 and hit nearly 1,000 ticket sales last year starting at $ 58 per person.

Peña credits its customers for the company’s success, as the web-savvy group often finds its tour online and then writes reviews about it. A food tour received the top tour from Trip Advisor in Santa Fe last year.

“We’re getting emails and reviews saying this was their best experience in New Mexico,” said Peña. “It’s nice to show people the positive things about New Mexico because I’m so proud of our state. That’s great in my heart. “

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