Born from a love of getting to know a country through its cuisine, Cayman Food Tours was established by Caymanian entrepreneur Marzeta Bodden, creating a unique opportunity for visitors and locals alike to discover historic, architectural and cultural highlights during a culinary walking tour of George Town.
The food tours also boost business for vendors, restaurants and attractions in the territory’s capital.
Marzeta Bodden has had the opportunity to get to know a number of the major cities in the world through their cuisine. So it made sense to her to create a similar opportunity here at home. But she was determined to make the experience multidimensional.
“Some of the tours that I’ve been on have focused just on food, but I wanted to include some added value in my tours, bringing in aspects such as history, architecture and culture to give a deeper and more meaningful experience for people so they really are able to connect with the Cayman Islands, still with food at the heart,” she says.
Taking a giant leap of faith – and leaving behind the stability of a regular income as a marketing executive for Appleby law firm – Bodden was well prepared to launch Cayman Food Tours last December. She did a tremendous amount of research and used her experience and knowledge from her background in marketing and from her travels.
“I resigned from my job one week and the next I was speaking with my very first vendor,” she says. “I had complete faith in the business; I knew I would make it happen.”
In the coming weeks, Bodden – whose master’s thesis was on whether food tourism would make a viable niche for the Cayman Islands – says she scouted the area she was aiming to include, trying out different venues as a mystery diner to see if they would make a good fit for her business plan.
“Accessibility was a key factor,” she explains. “It had to be a route that would be equally suited for stayover visitors as well as those on a cruise ship. George Town was the obvious choice. I also wanted to feature our capital as there is so much history within the area and it is in need of revitalization.
“I’m delighted to play a small part to make that happen. The vendors were really happy that I had decided on the project and thanked me for doing something for George Town.”
Variety and balance were key concepts that Bodden says she wanted to introduce into the food tour, as well as consistency of the food offering and service at each stop, and diversity in the tastings.
“I wanted to share Caymanian cuisine within the tour, but it was also important to me to ensure that it highlighted the melting pot that we are,” she says. Fairness is also an important part of her business ethic.
“I ensure that every venue that is part of the tour is properly paid for their offering,” she says. “That way, everybody wins. The venue generally offers discounts for people who take the tour so they can come back again and enjoy more.”
Another integral part of her business has been the development of a user-friendly website, www.caymanfoodtours.com, which Bodden says is her “storefront” – where she placed a significant investment.
“It provides guests with a great deal of information, such as how to prepare for the tour, information regarding each restaurant, and it has the capability for online payments. This was an essential component of the website as all tours are pre-booked and paid for online. I wanted to offer a five-star business, so I had to ensure that the website was to that level,” she says.
A boost from TripAdvisor
Online travel review site TripAdvisor has been an excellent marketing tool, attracting guests from all over the world for Bodden’s food tours.
“I joined TripAdvisor at the bottom of the list, as the 79th best attraction in Cayman out of 79. In the few months I’ve been in operation, I have risen to 23 and I’m still climbing,” she says. “I believe my quick ascent is down to the quality of the solid reviews that I have already received. The top 25 activities on Trip Advisor are all water sports-related, so I think it’s been recognized that I offer something different.”
(Just before press deadline, Cayman Food Tours was 17th of 56 activities in George Town on TripAdvisor’s site, and the tours had five stars.)
The tour begins at Guy Harvey’s Island Grill on the George Town waterfront, a picturesque location and one that fits with Bodden’s approach, as the restaurant is committed to sustainability in regard to the fish it serves.
“I had been visiting Guy Harvey’s for years, so I knew their reputation for great food and service,” she says. “Not only that, they also do amazing wine dinners as well.”
Bodden says that because the restaurant has a waterfront location, it may sometimes get overlooked by residents who believe it is primarily a tourist destination. By making Guy Harvey’s part of her food tour, she says, means greater exposure.
Owner-manager Bruno Deluche says Guy Harvey’s was more than happy to partner with Cayman Food Tours “as we believe it provides us with an excellent opportunity to showcase our restaurant not only to visitors to our island, but also to residents who may not have yet discovered us.
“Although the tour has only been in operation for a few months,” Deluche says, “we have already had a good many people who have taken the tour come back and enjoy our restaurant again and again. We are delighted to support this excellent tour and are very pleased that Marzeta has helped to promote local businesses such as ours in the George Town area.”
Next stop is the Cayman Islands National Museum, a treasure trove of culture and history that also houses a great source of locally made products, including teas made by Tea Time in Cayman and the artisanal Cayman Gourmet Pepper Jelly made by Carol Hay, both of which are enjoyed by those who take the tour. While the visit does not include a full tour of the museum, it gives guests a sample of what the venue offers and provides guests with a discount coupon for a full tour, thereby encouraging them to return.
Singh’s Roti Shop and Bar is the next stop on the tour, an off-the-beaten-track venue that Bodden says offers a cool island-vibe.
“There is always a really great mix of business professionals and people on vacation at Singh’s Roti, and I believe it’s an experience that you really don’t expect to get in town,” she advises. “I wanted to include Singh’s because it has been around for such a long time and is a family-owned business. I also believe it offers our guests a novel exposure to a different cuisine.”
Along with the Trinidadian and West Indian tastings, guests also get to experience one of Cayman’s most unique locally made items – a glass of cold Caybrew.
Bodden says the tour came together on its own, as she followed her gut feeling on places that would be the right fit.
“It’s a real balance of taste, and I think the variety is spot on,” she says.
Next stop is the Tortuga Rum Shop, where guests enjoy island favorite – the patty – plus a shot of Tortuga rum and a slice of its world-famous rum cake.
“The guests are genuinely surprised when they get to try the rum cake – it connects this popular export that’s found globally with its place of origin in the Cayman Islands,” she says.
“We also wanted to celebrate Cayman’s strong Jamaican roots, hence the patty. Guests are encouraged to visit the Tortuga Rum factory to find out more, and before Christmas residents who took the tour were thrilled with their discount coupon, allowing them to stock up on their holiday wine and spirits at a discount.”
To ensure that the tour begins and ends on the waterfront, the final stop is at Casanova by the Sea restaurant, where guests are offered a selection of pasta and a tiramisu dessert.
Casanova’s owner Tony Crescente says he is very pleased that his establishment is part of Cayman Food Tours.
“I love Marzeta’s passion and spirit for what she does,” he says. “It’s great exposure for us as a restaurant and it’s a fantastic concept because it has encouraged people to come back and visit us again.”
The food tour, which begins at 11 a.m., lasts three hours, and guests get to enjoy at least 10 food and beverage tastings. But Bodden’s day begins much earlier.
“I generally begin work before 9 a.m. to ensure that the operational aspect is in place for that day’s tour,” she explains. “This means placing orders, discussing any dietary requirements and so on with the venues.”
During the tour, Bodden works to ensure that her guests have a good time, offering interesting bits of knowledge about Cayman that many visitors and residents might overlook, such as a quick look at the old well encased in glass flooring in a cap shop or a description of how wattle and daub were used as building materials.
As a result of Bodden’s energy, experience and efforts, the tour runs as smoothly as a well-oiled machine, with each venue appreciating the need for speedy service and top-quality tastings to ensure all runs smoothly.
Stayover visitors to the island from the U.K., Terry and Marion Hasler, are among those who thoroughly enjoyed their tour.
“Although we have been regular visitors to the Cayman Islands for 20 years, we still found lots of new places to eat and got to appreciate cultural and historical sites that were new to us,” Terry Hasler says. “Singh’s Roti Shop was a particular favorite, and we will do our best to return while we are here.”
While Bodden acknowledges that there were a few hurdles she had to surmount, she says the solutions have come easily, and she believes she has become a better businesswoman because of the process.
“I get a great deal of joy out of the tours when I see residents rediscover places or watch visitors see the island through a new lens,” she says. “It’s become a really meaningful experience all round.”