Theresa Nemetz began Milwaukee Food Tours in 2008 to tell the stories of city history, culture and more through indie owned businesses. (Photo from Milwaukee Food and City Tours)
Theresa Nemetz began Milwaukee Food Tours in 2008 to tell the stories of city history, culture and more through indie owned businesses. (Photo from Milwaukee Food and City Tours)

Handmade morsels provide a break from yet another kitchen raid

A small business that began offering tastes of Milwaukee in 2008 through food tours on foot has adjusted its business model for these unusual times and now offers those tastes through  shelter-in-style kits (also marketed as quarantine care kits) shipped nationwide, providing a luxurious break from raiding the fridge and cupboards yet again

Milwaukee Food Tours stays in operation by pulling together treats from independently owned companies that were culinary tour stops until coronavirus concerns halted business as usual. 

Tour company founder Theresa Nemetz and husband Wade offer the option to personally deliver these care packages to doorsteps up and down the Milwaukee metro, from Cedarburg to Cudahy.

In the first week’s round, distributed March 31, were nearly 200 orders of sweet to cheesy choices: Gourmet cupcakes by the dozen. Hand-dipped chocolates. Freshly roasted coffee. Small-batch freezer pops. Pudgy Bavarian pretzels, each weighing one pound, with cheese dips. 

“We knew, from friends, that some people struggle as they try to work from home,” Nemetz explained. “We talked to bosses who want to keep a team together” by boosting a sense of connection, appreciation and motivation while working remotely. 

“That’s how this all started.”

Although the business pivot is new, Nemetz was warily paying attention three months ago to how COVID-19 was affecting Asia. “I started to think about what we could do if this happened” closer to home, she said. “I kept thinking about care packages.”

Milwaukee Food Tours had evolved from one Brady Street walking tour to 20-plus types of walking, bus and international tours – each emphasizing the area’s history, culture, architecture and/or ethnicity too. The company’s success turned it into the only income for the Nemetzes, who have two children: 6-year-old son Enzo and 3-year-old daughter Rose.

“This is not what my primary business model was,” Theresa Nemetz said, of her company’s transition, “but it’s still the same mission – we still tell the story of Milwaukee” through local foods. She says food tours in Seattle, Atlanta and Cincinnati followed her lead in the shift of business.

Her transition was spurred by suspension of the NBA season on March 11 and, two days later, the statewide order to close schools. “That was the trigger,” Nemetz said, for a whoosh of tour cancellations, class field trips and more. 

“We were still giving food tours and selling tour tickets on March 13, but people quickly became scared to leave their homes.”

The next day, she made a dozen calls to vendors who were food tour stops and had products suitable for shipping. Eight were interested in her care package idea, to help stay in business and keep staff employed.

That was enough to get started, and by March 23 Nemetz was sending an email blast to her previous customers and announcing the new offerings on Facebook. “Orders were placed in minutes,” she said, from New York to Florida to Arizona, and for reasons beyond the original opportunity that Nemetz perceived.

Generations of families connect through these reminders of home. People appreciative of “essential businesses – especially in the medical field” are sending a little reward to boost the spirit of workers nearing burnout.

As Nemetz sees it, “it was a fast and positive start” that simultaneously “brings a little bit of happiness” to stressed out relatives, friends and workers of all sorts. It also keeps her from laying off the company’s one full-time and two part-time employees.

Sweets from Classy Girl Cupcakes, Milwaukee, are one of the new Milwaukee Food and City Tours care package choices. (Photo by Mary Bergin)

Care package cost starts at $35, including pick up, delivery or shipping. Choices at milwaukeefoodtours.com will include Easter and Mother’s Day themes. Each purchase includes private access to a relevant virtual tour, typically put together by a food vendor.

A $45 baking kit, from Classy Girl Cupcakes, provides cupcake liners and sprinkles to baking batter and frosting. A five-week care package subscription, providing a different treat on five consecutive Tuesdays, costs $142. Some choices – like freezer pops from Pete’s Pops – are not available for shipment.

Nemetz considers her change in emphasis as temporary: Food tours aren’t gone forever, she stresses; corporate and other bookings for fall and 2021 continue.