CHICAGO — When customers began asking Theresa Nemetz and Hannah Gleeson, the owner and director of operations of Chicago Food & City Tours, if they had a tour based on the hit FX/Hulu series “The Bear,” they didn’t take the requests very seriously. “Bear” hype was everywhere.
But when the requests continued months after the second season had dropped, they reconsidered.
“When people kept saying to us, ‘Have you thought about “The Bear”?’ twice a week, we thought, you know what? We need to do it. Maybe there’s something to it,” Gleeson said.
There was also a clear model: The episode in season two in which sous chef Sydney takes a tour of Chicago restaurants in search of inspiration.
Tickets for Yes Chef! Chicago: A Bear-Inspired Food Tour became available this month. Sales have been brisk. The public tours run 1 p.m. every other Saturday through December, and private tours are available.
Once the decision was made, Nemetz and Gleeson began to debate which spots to include. Mr. Beef, the River North model for the show’s restaurant, was an obvious choice — but where else?
Nemetz has run city food tours for 16 years in Chicago and Milwaukee, and she considers herself well-versed in how to plan a tour that satisfies customers and gives them a sense of the city without overwhelming an business. For example, to avoid crowding out other customers, each tour group contains no more than 24 people.
“One of the things we pride ourselves on is how we build relationships with small business owners,” Nemetz said. “We want to highlight the business and tell their story. The conversation usually goes, ‘This is a tour we’re developing. Is it feasible for you, and do you want to make 1,000 of this item over and over again?’”
Another consideration was geography. Although a bus will transport tour participants between neighborhoods, it’s much easier to keep the stops relatively close together.
After a series of interviews and tastings with chefs and business owners around the city, the tour creators settled on an itinerary and menu that includes Italian beef from Mr. Beef, a tartine and seasonal pastries from Publican Quality Breads, dan dan noodles or dumplings from Lao Peng You, a slice of pepperoni pizza from Pizza Lobo, a doughnut from Roeser’s Bakery and, for the grand finale, a single-scoop hot fudge sundae from Margie’s Candies.
In between stops, tour guides point out locations from the show and share tidbits and stories about filming.
The tour creators made a point of avoiding the Chicago cliché of deep-dish pizza.
“We know tourists are thinking, ‘Do Chicagoans eat this deep-dish all the time?’” Gleeson said. “No, we don’t. There’s lots of delicious pizza coming out of Chicago besides that deep-dish.”
The itinerary and menu may change and evolve, depending on the date and time, and restaurants may join or leave the lineup.
Nemetz said the tour isn’t just for Chicagoans or “Bear” fans, adding that Chicago Food & City Tours offers plenty of other options, including trips to Pilsen, Chinatown and the West Loop. But she and Gleeson have noticed a lot of the visitors on the private “Bear” tours are former Chicagoans whose sense of nostalgia was kindled by the show and who want to show off the city to family and friends.
Which is the whole point of the tour: to highlight Chicago’s food and drink and introduce business owners to tourists and explain what they mean to the city and to their neighborhoods. And, of course, to enjoy some really good food.
“I want everyone to feel how Sydney felt that day, when she reset her palate and fell in love with Chicago food again,” Gleeson said.
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