Long Beach culture and cuisine are the focus of Beach City Food Tours, a new way to eat and enjoy the city.
For three hours, guests meander through a series of downtown destinations, sampling dishes and learning tidbits about the area. Founder Layla Ali-Ahmad said she came up with the idea on her honeymoon, when she and her husband enjoyed a food tour in Edinburgh.
“I realized it was a great way to get to know an area in a short period of time,” Ali-Ahmad said. “I immediately searched to see if there were any food tours in Long Beach.”
At first, Ali-Ahmad found it hard to persuade Long Beach restaurant owners to work with her; she said they just didn’t understand the food tour concept. Luckily, she said, they soon came to realize that she could help them connect with a new audience.
She formed partnerships with seven eateries (George’s Greek Café, Pier 76 Fish Grill, Michaels’s Pizzeria, Rainbow Juices, Recreational Coffee, The Pie Bar, Romeo Chocolates) and one retail store (MADE by Millworks), all within a one-and-a-half-mile radius.
“Layla does a great job showcasing some of the tastiest spots in Long Beach,” Laurie Gray, founder and CEO of The Pie Bar, said.
Romeo Garcia, owner of Romeo Chocolates, described Layla as “a great steward for our city” adding that she “promotes small businesses and shows locals and visitors a fun perspective on our vibrant community.”
Ali-Ahmad said her love for food started early. She loved helping her Lebanese grandmother in the kitchen. During college, Ali-Ahmad said food became an escape from her engineering studies. She started reading cookbooks for fun and spending her free time watching food-related television shows.
Although she was a “foodie” at heart, Ali-Ahmad followed the same path as her parents and her twin sister, working as an engineer after graduation. After two years, she said she felt unfulfilled and left engineering to help a wine wholesaler. She described this period as a happy time in her life … until she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in June 2014.
In February 2015, after chemotherapy, radiation treatment and a double mastectomy, Ali-Ahmad said she was in remission and excited about her upcoming wedding. That September, she and her husband were wed, followed by a three-week honeymoon to celebrate her good health. When she returned, she decided to follow her passion and make food her life’s work. She took business classes and launched Beach City Food Tours in September 2016.
The response was positive. Business owners used her tours for team-building, visitors signed up to learn about Long Beach, and locals reserved spaces to see their city through new eyes. Last month, Ali-Ahmad was named a finalist for the Entrepreneur Award at the Long Beach Hospitality Alliance’s Hospitality Awards.
Alex Calderon, a recent customer, said he loved learning facts about Long Beach on the Beach City Food Tour. Calderon and his co-workers from Urban Science, a local consulting firm, spent the afternoon touring with Ali-Ahmad.
“Most of us have been around this area for a while,” Calderon said, “but we didn’t know the history. It was really cool to get that perspective.”
Ali-Ahmad’s perspective has once again become clouded by health issues. In February, her two-year check-up revealed stage four cancer, with spots scattered throughout her spine and ribcage. Undaunted by her difficulties, the 29-year-old is not slowing down; in fact, she said she is planning to expand her business.
Currently, Beach City Food Tours are offered Friday through Sunday, but Wednesday and Thursday tours are coming soon, she said. To make a reservation, go to www.beachcityfoodtours.com.