COVID-19 has affected our world in ways we could never have imagined just months ago, forcing everyone to adapt and evolve. Small businesses have felt the impact of this forced evolution the most, and some more than others.
River City Food Tours was built around a concept – groups of people walking, often closely, together through Richmond neighborhoods before popping into various eating establishments for bites and sips as a group, that had no place in the middle of a pandemic.
“After we had to shut down our food tours in mid-March, we spent a few weeks in self-pity mode,” said Brian Beard who co-owns the tour company with his wife, Erin. “We started looking for ideas on how we could change our business to make in through the COVID-19 crisis.”
The result was the Discover Richmond Box: a curated box featuring products from local Richmond makers that delivers the culinary “tour” right to customers’ doorsteps. Each box includes a variety of locally sourced savory, sweet, and hearty items, as well as a bag of coffee or tea. As an added bonus, each box also includes a gift certificate to be used toward a future tour with River City Food Tours. Each week's limited run of boxes are different, with some weeks being more themed such as Mother's Day or their popular Brunch Box.
“We are fortunate that Richmond is a really collaborative town and this crisis has led to people being even more open to working together,” said Beard. Through this endeavor, River City Tours has also been able to help support other local small businesses as they purchase all of the items for the boxes. What’s more, they’ve been able to re-hire many of their tour guides who now function as delivery drivers.
Since launching in late April, the boxes have taken off and are now delivered locally to 27 zip codes within the metro Richmond region every Sunday. River City Food Tours has moved operations into Hatch Kitchen which enables them to include more perishable items in the boxes in addition to shelf stable goods. Customers who don’t live within the zip codes they currently deliver to can also pick up boxes at Can Can Brasserie in Carytown.
While the boxes have been a welcome addition to the business, at their core, River City Food Tours is all about getting people out and exploring the city.
“We had to ask ourselves, what do tours look like right now? People needed a way to get out of their homes during quarantine,” said Beard.
They ended up partnering with a scavenger hunt software provider to create two interactive neighborhood tours – one for the Museum District and one for Church Hill, with more in development.
The tours are interactive – with a little bit of history and a little bit of simply showcasing hidden spots. Participants receive an email with about 30 points of interest with clues and questions. Some prompts have them doing things such as re-enacting Patrick Henry’s famous speech or snapping a photo of a spot that is overlayed with a photo from the same spot that was taken in the 1800s.
“Ideally, people in Richmond will be like, ‘wow I never knew this was here’,” Beard said.
While their methods have certainly pivoted sharply, River City Tours has persevered, and will continue to show off Richmond’s hidden gems, both culinary and by foot for locals and visitors alike.