In 2006, it was a completely different world. Travel agents were disappearing, Airbnb didn't exist, and Groupon Getaways was still five long years away from launching. But David Loy had just gotten an incredible idea. After spending years helping to create the booking technology big travel companies relied on, he was finally going to create his own travel site.
But the goal wasn't to mimic sites like Expedia or Kayak. Instead, Loy would pair his expertise with one of his life's great loves: food. He wanted to create experiences that would allow customers to explore different cultures through excellent cuisine; thus Epitourean and Edible Destinations were born.
By zeroing in on his passion for food, Loy was able to tap into a trend that was really just exploding onto the scene in the US: "[When we launched] it was right about the time when the Food Network was really going crazy, the celebrity chefs were really coming into their own, and [it was] probably a couple years even before the Cooking Channel launched." Which is to say that the foodie craze was really just getting going. All of a sudden, food from all over the country and all over the world was streaming into people's living rooms. Loy knew Edible Destinations would be the perfect way to get people to really dive into the trend.
Tours are designed with various regional cuisines in mind and then the tour is built around all the different ways you can experience those cuisines. That can include everything from visits to local markets, dining at hidden gems, and even cooking classes.
In the beginning, Loy and his team stayed closer to home by focusing on locations in the US. "The first destinations that we chose were those that we felt had a good or solid identity as a culinary destination," said Loy. That meant looking to Napa Valley, known for its wineries and farm-to-table fare; Santa Fe and its hybrid New Mexican dishes; New Orleans for cajun and creole classics; and (of course) New York City and its litany of world-reknowned restaurants.
Initially, everything was customizeable. Travelers picked the location and added on the outings and classes that appealed to them. But as the business grew, Loy turned his attention overseas and toward the prospect of adding more structured itineraries. He noticed that more than 50% of the requests coming in from potential customers were from people itching to go international.
"You would think that France would be the number one spot for something like this because it's kind of the innovator of the high-end cuisine that we have, that we see today," said Loy before noting that Italy is nearly three times more requested than France. "Americans love a pasta and everything Italian!"
Loy and his team were determined to make the tours as unique as possible, so "we would go in and find owners of palazzos, those beautiful palazzos that sit the the top of the medieval villages, that could be repurposed or enhanced to host full-blown cooking vacations."
Today, Epitourean's Italy tours are one of the most popular trips offered on Groupon Getaways. Looking ahead, Loy sees plenty of room to expand. "We get very unique and high-quality supplier partners around the world that are reaching out to us to partner." Most recently, Loy said "[the] Israeli ministry reached out to me and offered to provide me with a full expense-paid trip if I'd analyze the culinary tourism capabilities of the country."
Epitourean's reach has grown a lot since those early days in 2006. Today, customers can find trips in all 50 states plus 16 different countries, with more being added all the time. That means getting a literal taste for travel is only going to get easier.