Interview by Bo Crew
Jessica Baumgart, founder of the local startup Delicious Denver Food Tours, has been serving up great tours for over a year. Baumgart and her guides take tourists, international visitors, and locals on tours exploring the city’s unique and thriving food scene. Hungry guests who join the tours get a chance to get off the beaten path and try great local dishes while learning about Denver’s rich history and architecture. We sat down with Baumgart to hear about the challenges and rewards of starting a small business in Denver.
Denver VOICE: How did Delicious Denver Food Tours get started?
Jessica Baumgart: We ran our first tour in December of 2017. I’ve always been passionate about food and travel. I had worked a traditional nine-to-five role in marketing, but wasn’t super happy doing that. My husband and I took a one-year break to travel around the world when we first got married. A big focus of that trip was food. I like to eat at local places and connect to a place through food, so we did a lot of food tours while traveling. We enjoyed meeting chefs and supporting the local food scene. When we came back, I knew I wanted to do something with food and people, so I started doing cooking classes and food experiences.
As a foodie myself, I’m always eating out and exploring so it just made sense to put those two together. So I launched the food tour company in December for small groups of up to 14 people. Our downtown tours run a three-hour walking tour seven days a week in which guests visit six different restaurants and learn about the city in-between stops. I put up a website and started guiding the tours myself. At first, it was only a few days a week and then, three months in, it was seven days a week. I’d worked as a food tour guide so I had experience already, but doing your own thing is scary. People that run their own business are cool and crazy.
DV: What were your expectations going into it?
JB: I envisioned guiding all the tours myself, but once we had requests for tours every day, I started hiring tour guides. I have three tour guides that split up the week while I do all the business side of things. I still get energized meeting travelers or locals who are exploring the local food scene, so I still put myself on the schedule every couple weeks.
DV: How did you set up the business?
JB: This whole business is all about relationships. We pitch ourselves as people who love their food and want to support local restaurants. We give owners and chefs a chance to show off and talk about the cool things they are doing at their restaurants. Building these relationships is the longest and hardest part. If they don’t love you, it doesn’t work. In any small business like this, you have to be the IT person, you’re the CEO, you’re the payroll, you’re the guide.
DV: How did you learn to do all those different roles as a small business owner?
JB: Google everything. Figure it out as you go. As you encounter a new problem, just ask yourself, ‘Who knows about this?’ I go to a lot of free meetings and networking events because there are other people that have already done this, so I just have to find out who to ask ... or I ask the internet.
DV: How has the community helped in getting your business going?
JB: Women Who Startup does monthly basecamps, entrepreneur meetups, and Denver Founders have all helped at different points. I also ask partners who I think might know about different aspects. I try to foster as many personal relationships as I can.
DV: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business but doesn’t know where to start?
JB: Decide to start and take it one day at a time. I check out a lot of free books from the library and ask for help. Chunk it down into small, manageable steps and do a little bit every day. People are so kind if you just reach out and look for others in that industry. Call them. Email them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help because you’re never going to know everything.
DV: What were the biggest roadblocks in starting your business?
JB: Outsourcing was one of the biggest stumbling blocks because hiring others felt like leaving your baby with a babysitter. I had to learn to let go of those things. There are always surprises and you have to figure out ways to do the things you don’t want to do.
DV: I saw that you also offer tours through AirBNB Experiences which promotes itself as a marketplace for locals that offer tours. So how does that tie into your business?
JB: It’s another way to reach our audience. It worked for us to use AirBNB Experiences because it allowed us to connect with a lot of international travelers. It’s a great avenue for scrappy entrepreneurs who know about one thing. But you need to have insurance and make sure you’re covered if something should go wrong.
DV: What are your plans for the business going forward?
JB: You have to balance working on the business and working in the business, so that’s really hard. But I’m launching a new tour in RiNo (Denver’s River North Arts District). I’ve got a downtown tour, a cocktails tour on the weekends, and we are starting all new partnerships with all new restaurants in RiNo. There will be five new places on this tour that offer craft beer pairings with the food for people that want to learn about the Denver beer scene and eat some good food. ■