5 Questions With Pete Manzo, Founder of EAT Saint Louis Food Tours
EAT Saint Louis only jumped onto the St. Louis culinary scene a few months ago, but the food tours are quickly becoming a popular activity for tourists and locals alike. Founder and chief tour guide Pete Manzo is also the owner of Manzo’s Kitchen, where he makes Italian sausage for various local restaurants and special orders. We chatted with Manzo about his family’s longstanding ties to The Hill’s restaurants, learning from village butchers in Tuscany and his vision for the local food tours.
ALIVE: Tell us a little about your background in Italian cooking.
Pete Manzo: I was born into a family that had its roots in the St. Louis food scene. I grew up tagging along with my dad and brother as they would deliver the raw ingredients (such as tomato products, olive oil, flour, cheese) to Italian restaurants around the St. Louis area, including the Hill. When I started Manzo’s Kitchen, I was focused on my sausage-making business and learning other about other salumi—other than our popular family recipe salsiccia—so in 2012, I spent time making salumi with several village butchers in the Tuscany area. This experience rekindled my love for Italy and was a catalyst for getting officially recognized as an Italian citizen (I kept my American citizenship, also).
ALIVE: What inspired you to start the food tours?
PM: In early 2013, I spent three months shadowing a woman who does private food-centric tours in the area of Tuscany and gained a tremendous amount of experience in the food tourism arena, and this made me realize this was the direction I wanted to go in. When I returned to the U.S., I was determined to open a business that would allow me to do what I enjoy—sharing my love of food with people from all over. I found a company out of Chicago that has spearheaded ‘food tourism’ and took a mentoring course to see how their business was structured and operated. This course, coupled with my own sheer thirst for knowledge and further research, led me to open EAT Saint Louis Food Tours in March of 2014.
ALIVE: How would you describe the tours to someone who had never been before?
PM: Going on an EAT Saint Louis Food Tour is like having a close ‘foodie’ friend who knows not only the best foods and places to eat them, but also knows the business owners and arranges a special experience to take you to them to sample the food—and while on your way to the eateries, gives you his ‘insider’s view’ of the area that only a local can give! The tours are leisurely paced with enough food to make sure you are pleasantly full by the end, and enough walking to ensure you don’t feel guilty about the indulgence. I pride myself on being very attentive to my guests and making sure they have a great tour experience. After all, I represent Italians in general—the most friendly and welcoming people of them all!
ALIVE: What kinds of places can people expect to visit on the tour?
PM: With this being a start-up company, I wanted our first tour to be something that would play to my strengths—those being my food background, my heritage as an Italian American and my own family’s immigrant story. The Italian area of The Hill was the most obvious choice. Our “Taste of the Hill” Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour is currently our first and only tour, but my intention is to grow it to showcase the many wonderful neighborhoods that form our great city of St. Louis. Many who have taken the tour have already asked to be notified when we roll out additional tours. For the sake of delivering a consistently fun, delicious and educational tour experience, the information contained in our tours are the same and we visit the same locations and taste the same foods. I don’t provide a list of the eating establishments for two reasons. First, I find the element of surprise enhances the experience, and secondly, it allows me the freedom to substitute an eatery (should I choose to do so for any reason) with minimal impact to the participant.
ALIVE: What do you think sets these tours apart from other food tours in town?
PM: I believe what sets us apart from other food tours in town is that the walking tour forces you to slow down and take in the details. The expert commentary redirects you to think about the larger immigrant picture and how this unique neighborhood has survived the years and managed to keep delicious food on almost every corner. I spent three months designing the tour—researching books, architectural drawings and conducting interviews with many of the Hill elders. If you take the time to read some of the reviews on TripAdvisor, I take pride in the fact even locals, those that felt they “knew” the Hill and say they have lived in St. Louis all of their lives, have commented that they loved the tour because I brought them to places they didn’t know about and they learned things on my tour they never even thought about. My food tour encompasses the best of the best—consistently the best food, the best information and the best overall experience. And I plan on parlaying these attributes in all my future tour, and that is what keeps me excited about the future of my company.
EAT Saint Louis tours run weekly Thursday afternoons, Friday and Saturday, April through November.