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Looking for a way to learn some history they would not teach in school while tasting foods from around the world? Chicago Foodways Tours offers a unique way to see the historical Argyle and Andersonville neighborhoods while enjoying foods from Vietnam, the Middle East, and Sweden.
Owner/Operator Phyllis Petrilli originally came up with the idea while in the North end of Boston five years before establishing her food tour. She founded the Chicago Foodways Tours in 2014. The idea behind her business is to take her guests “out of the tourist areas and into the neighborhoods where real Chicago lives.”
Petrilli liked the idea of conducting a food tour, however, she “for some reason didn’t think Chicago was the right city to do it in.” Not until she was managing a restaurant in Bucktown that someone approached her and said “So and so did these food tours and I want to bring my food tours into your business.”
She was shocked the person wanted to have a food tour there.
What really astounded me was that I knew a lot of foodie people in the city, cooking instructors; she was a cooking instructor. This is somebody I have never heard of before.
All she could think was ” Who are you and why are you doing this?” Then Petrilli thought “Better question, why am I not doing this?”
Even with that thought process it still took her a few years to actually start Chicago Foodways Tours. Since beginning operations, she has had a few different tours around the city. Currently, Chicago Foodways Tours offers a three-hour walking tour in the Argyle and Andersonville neighborhoods. They also have a private tour available for small groups.
The Saigon to Stockholm tour offers patrons the opportunity to taste “culinarily, by refraining from the cliché foods and by highlighting the city’s cultural diversity.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit many businesses, including Chicago Foodways Tours, were forced to close down operations for a time. It was during that time period that Petrilli came up with the idea for The Great Chicago Cookie box.
I thought it’s Christmas time, it’s cookies and there are so many businesses.
In both the Chicago Foodways Tours and the cookie box, Petrilli likes to focus on the different businesses that really have the immigrant flavors of Chicago. “Whether people came here a hundred years ago or 10 years ago; What are these flavors that came to Chicago,” she stated.
The Chicago Foodways Tours owner “felt bakeries were a great one to highlight since there are so many different types of them in the city. It just kinda lent itself to my cookie box idea,” Petrilli said.
In the past, Chicago Foodways Tours toured the Taylor Street neighborhood known as Little Italy. However, much of that has changed with the businesses. She stated that “It might get retooled and come back as Little Italy and Greek Town or I may just go somewhere else.”
In 2022, Chicago Foodways Tours is planning to launch a Lincoln Square food tour. Petrilli has been stating for years that she wanted to do a tour in that neighborhood. Next year is the time when she has finally committed to expanding Chicago Foodways Tours.
The people who have done the Chicago Foodways Tours have had a great time. She added, “They always ask me what else am I doing.” Now she can offer them a new taste of history in another neighborhood she knows and loves.
Chicago Foodways Tours guests who take the Saigon to Stockholm tour are able to walk through one of Chicago’s oldest neighborhoods. They are able to see the rich culture of murals while sampling delicious foods. They taste cuisines from two different Vietnamese businesses, nibble on some Swedish food, and try some uncelebrated Middle Eastern flavors with spice tasting while with the Chicago Foodways Tours. Then they top off the day “with some really good falafel.”
There is a narrative in the murals in the Argyle neighborhood that shows a hundred years of immigration history. The owner of Chicago Foodways Tours stated the murals really opened people’s eyes to all of these real events that took place in the city.
A lot of food tours take their guests to what is hip and trendy; Chicago Foodways Tours focuses on family businesses that represent the people of the neighborhood. When considering an area to conduct her tours, Petrilli looks to see if the people and businesses “tell the prominent story of the culture in the neighborhood.”
Chicago Foodways Tours start their season in April. Usually, they will run through into the beginning of December. However, with planning the cookie box and the uncertainty of COVID, Chicago Foodways Tours ended this year in November.
Written by Sheena Robertson
Interview: Phyllis Petrilli, Chicago Foodways Tours Owner/Operator on Dec. 14, 2021
Chicago Foodways Tours: About
Images Courtesy of Phillis Petrilli – Used With Permission