How Avital Ungar created her company, using food to bring travelers together…
When Avital Ungar watched the movie, “Chocolat,” she set her sights on France (and Johnny Depp) and took the plunge, eventually moving there.
While she didn’t find Depp, she did find French food culture — and fell in love with it. Afternoons spent sipping wine with friends turned into formal sommelier training. Evenings spent over dinner morphed into meaningful experiences spurred by delicious dishes. And upon her arrival home to San Francisco’s Bay Area, she had decided where her passions lay — in using food to facilitate connections.
Thus, Avital Tours was born. Less the hurried food tour you spot huddled outside a restaurant right as you’re trying to catch the subway and more of a progressive dining experience — small groups move from restaurant to restaurant for one of four courses — Avital makes sure that each experience is curated to those attending and their interests.
Now located in three outposts — New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles — Avital Tours is committed to the connection that occurs when diners gather around a table, share stories and enjoy good food by local providers.
Though she didn’t always know that this would be her path, Avital sensed that her childhood would play a part in who she is now and what food means to her. She can recall her mother shopping at Bay Area farmer’s markets, finding exquisite, ripe melons from around the world and teaching her children about their minute differences. With smart spending done entirely on credit cards for points, the family would embark on adventures from their Bay Area base. In this sense, Avital’s upbringing cemented the importance of food, the care associated with feeding others and a love of travel.
And while the element of travel is alive and well in Avital’s life (she’d just returned home from a three-month trip to Tokyo when we spoke), her goal is to make locals feel as though they’re visiting their city for the first time, learning about the food, flavors and stories of a particular chef, restaurant and neighborhood in an intimate setting. Sort of like traveling without ever having to pack. And she’s been successful — Avital has been recognized by the Travel Channel, USA Today, Condé Nast Traveler and CNN.
Avital also champions inclusivity — patrons can join a tour regardless of prior foodie experience, age or whatever else. She said that she was proud to have created a supportive space where this kind of experimentation and adventure were possible. Avital is busy running the experiences from three satellite cities. She often organizes events for recruiting groups, team-building initiatives at companies and for groups of friends or couples. Most of her experiences have a humanitarian aspect built in, as she offers patrons the option to donate to a local food pantry when purchasing their tour, even building in the opportunity to volunteer at a soup kitchen as part of the package.
It’s significant that using food as a unifier is breaking barriers and uniting those across cities, which was exactly this founder’s intent. And as it seems, for Avital, this is just the beginning.