Canton Food Tours Entrepreneur Gets Her Start at the Small Business Development Center at Kent State Stark
Three hours of walking, eating and drinking through Scottsdale, Arizona, was all it took to get Barbara Abbott hooked on becoming an entrepreneur.
“We were on a family trip in 2010,” says Abbott, a resident of Canton Township. “Someone scheduled us for a food tour — something I had never heard of before. But by the time it was over, I thought it was a great way to experience a town and thought the concept would be a good fit for Canton.”
While Scottsdale inspired Abbott and shared its recipe for a culinary tour company, it was the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Kent State University at Stark that gave Abbott some important ingredients.
INGREDIENTS OF BUSINESS
Abbott already had plenty of tour-giving, visitor-engaging experience, thanks to her career as a naturalist with Ohio State Parks. For 13 years, she led public programs, including ushering groups through historic buildings and guiding them on nature hikes.
What she needed was business acumen, knowing how to start a company and keep it running. That’s why she called SBDC and signed up for a small business orientation class.
SBDC provides confidential, individualized counseling sessions without charge and low- or no-cost business education to help people start, sustain and grow businesses.
“I learned about the basic structure of a business, the importance of writing a business plan, employment guidelines … all things that lay the foundation for a small business, and all things I hadn’t considered earlier,” says Abbott.
Following the two-hour orientation, Abbott left Kent State Stark with two valuable takeaways: a copy of SBDC’s business owner’s guidebook and an introduction to SBDC certified business advisor Holly Bolinger.
“The book helped me craft a business plan and determine whether I should create a sole proprietorship, limited liability company or something else,” says Abbott. “I also had several followup meetings with Holly, who would give me homework and tell me if I was on the right path.”
With guidance from Bolinger and the SBDC, Abbott launched Canton Food Tours in 2012.
TASTE OF THE TOWN
Canton Food Tours is for local residents as much as out-of-town visitors. Groups take walking tours, highlighting Canton sites, history, artists and eateries. At each stop, participants enjoy “chef’s choice” small plates — enough food to constitute a full meal by the end of the tour. Stops vary by tour, which include the Corks and Forks: Progressive Wine Tour, Just Desserts Tour and Hall of Fame City Food Tour. Customers also can create their own tours.
“You get a great sampling of the town while sampling food and drinks of the region,” says Abbott.
Currently, there are about 200 food tour operations in 38 states, says Abbott. But the culinary tourism trend is growing quickly. Even Abbott has expanded operations, adding Wooster Food Tours in 2013.
“I didn’t know if I should make Wooster an extension of Canton Food Tours or a separate company, so I went back to Holly for advice,” says Abbott. “Holly recommended, and my lawyer affirmed, that a separate LLC would be best, so that’s what I did.”
MAKING THE DREAM REAL
The success of Canton Food Tours has exceeded Abbott’s expectations, growing 73 percent its second year. Continued growth seems certain with the expansion to Wooster and other “pockets of the region,” says Abbott.
In addition, Abbott and Canton Food Tours have received high acclaim from Canton’s business community, most notably being named 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year by the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce.
For other wishful entrepreneurs or those with fledgling businesses, Abbott strongly recommends small business counseling. “It’s important and available,” says Abbott.
“Many people dream of owning a business, but SBDC can make the dream real.”