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FEEDING CURIOSITY: Mother-daughter business takes groups on food tours, providing the story behind the sustenance

By: TERESA FARNEY
September 14, 2010
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photo - Alice's Mexican Cuisine owner Alice Ballesteros, standing, talked with Karen Kelley, right, and those on Kelley's food tour last month. Kelley and her daughter, Samantha Bruner, take groups on food tours of downtown Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs.  Photo by ANTHONY SOUFFLE, THE GAZETTE
Alice's Mexican Cuisine owner Alice Ballesteros, standing, talked with Karen Kelley, right, and those on Kelley's food tour last month. Kelley and her daughter, Samantha Bruner, take groups on food tours of downtown Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. Photo by ANTHONY SOUFFLE, THE GAZETTE 

Do you know how long it takes to prepare the legendary French onion soup served at La Baguette? Or that there is only one restaurant downtown built in the style of the Italian Renaissance?



Did you know there is a very good Tex-Mex place tucked behind Josh and John’s Ice Cream?
Those are just a few of the discoveries you’ll make on the Colorado Springs Food Tour. It’s a new business created by Karen Kelley and her twenty-something daughter, Samantha Bruner.

“We had gone on a family vacation to Hawaii,” Kelley said. “I had heard of food tours but had never gone on one. I found the Hole-in-the-Wall Tour in Honolulu, but it would have cost $500 for all of us to go on the tour. So we didn’t do it, but the seed was planted as a business idea.”

Then, on a vacation to Vail, Kelley was looking for something to do and stumbled upon a culinary tour there.

“I did go on that tour and thought it was a great idea,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in travel and food. I travel to eat.”

So when Kelley’s daughter was laid off earlier this year, the two put their heads together to develop a business plan for their own food-tour company.

“We started researching in March and officially launched our business in May,” said Bruner.
And they haven’t looked back. So far, they’ve done 20 tours with a total of about 150 people.

For the downtown tour, you walk to six restaurants over three hours. You eat, hear about the various establishments’ histories and cuisines from each of the owners. Between eateries, Kelley and Bruner take turns pointing out interesting historical places along the route and giving an overview of Colorado Springs’ history.

“We have three goals for the tours,” said Bruner at the start of a recent tour. “We want you to have fun, learn something new about Colorado Springs and get plenty to eat.”

The mother-daughter team has accomplished their goals, plus some. Here’s what you get on the Colorado Springs Tour:

The group meets at the corner of East Kiowa and North Tejon streets. Bruner gives a brief rundown of what the afternoon will include. Everyone gets a Whole Foods Market shopping bag with a bottle of water; the bag comes in handy for carrying to-go boxes that you’ll surely need.

During our tag-along, the first stop was La Baguette French Bakery and Café on Pikes Peak Avenue. Owner Joe Fordge had set up a long table for us where he served small cups of the famous French onion soup, topped with gooey melted Swiss cheese, along with a sizable hunk of baguette and butter. As we dove into the steaming-hot soup, he explained that it took three days of simmering to prepare a bowl of soup.

“Every day, I have three (7-gallon) pots of soup cooking on the stove: One is the fresh batch, a second pot is on day two of cooking and the third one is ready to be served.” he said. “It takes three days for the soup to be complete. We sell five to eight gallons of soup a day.”

We also learned that the original restaurant in Old Colorado City opened in 1984 and is still the location where all the bread is made.

Next up, we strolled to Alice’s Mexican Cuisine. It’s just past Josh and John’s Ice Cream — you turn down a walkway that runs along the side of that shop. The colorful covered patio and front door let you know you’ve reached Alice’s. A table was all set for us in the cozy dining room, and we were immediately served hot gorditas with salsa, guacamole and chips. To cool things off, we sipped cups of horchata, a refreshing, creamy, rice-based drink. The food was delicious.

Alice Ballesteros, the owner and chef, makes everything from scratch daily. If you’re lucky, she’ll have her homemade tres leches cake on hand, which was the inspiration for including her restaurant on the tour.

“I was at a friend’s party and had a piece of the cake,” said Bruner. “It was the best thing I had ever eaten, and I wanted to get the recipe. My friend said she had gotten it from Alice’s downtown. I had never heard of the restaurant and immediately came here to eat. I knew we had to have this restaurant on the tour so others could discover how good the food is.”

From there, we headed to Slayton’s Tejon Street Grill. This was a little longer walk, and we stopped several times to hear historical facts about artwork on the street and on various buildings. We stopped in front of the new Olympic Training Center office building on Tejon to take a look at the building that houses Slayton’s and Sonterra Grill across the street.

“This is the only building in Colorado Springs that was designed in the Italian Renaissance style,” Kelley pointed out.

At the eatery, we were served Slayton’s signature “burnt ends,” bathed in plenty of barbecue sauce and topped with a perfectly fried onion ring. Burnt ends are the end pieces that are trimmed from the barbecued ribs. Several people asked for doggie bags.

Our next stop was not a restaurant but the Savory Spice Shop, a place where any foodie could spend some quality time. We took our time browsing and shopping. The store offers a 15 percent discount on purchases for the tour groups. And, of course, there were nibbles available. A couple of cheese dips used the store’s dip mixes, and there was popcorn topped with truffle salt and cups of cold chai tea for sampling.

We continued our walk down Tejon to Paris Crepes, where co-owner Wahid Hafsaoui prepared Blueberry Cheesecake Crepes. These were simply delicious. The restaurant offers an interesting range of crepes, soups and salads, all prepared with top-notch ingredients.

The final stop was Poor Richard’s and Rico’s Coffee, Chocolate and Wine Bar, where we were served a huge pizza and samples of chocolate. Since this was the last stop, there was time to linger and buy a glass of wine to enjoy with our nibbles.

By the end of the tour, everyone had pretty much gotten to know each other. Three people were from Colorado Springs and had never heard of Alice’s Mexican Cuisine, Savory Spice Shop or Paris Crepes. Four others on the tour were from Phoenix for a long weekend.

“I found the tour recommended on Trip Advisory,” said Theresa Hudson. “I thought it would be a good way to learn about the town and find some good places to eat.”

There was little doubt that Kelley and Bruner succeeded in reaching their goals. It was fun, we all learned something and we ate plenty of food.

Tours are limited to six to 12 participants and cost $49 per person for the Colorado Springs Food Tour, which is held on Saturday afternoons. The recently added Manitou Springs Food Tour is held on Fridays and costs $39 per person. Visit coloradospringsfoodtours.com for times and to make reservations.

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