In our series, “My Money-Making Side Gig,” we get the skinny on enterprising folks who are getting ahead on their financial goals by burning the midnight oil.
The objective? Go behind the scenes to learn exactly how they’re doing it—so you can see whether the side job could be a fit for you too.
Today’s side-gig spotlight: one couple who combined their loves of food, travel and hometown pride to launch a local food tour for residents and visitors alike.
After taking several food tours during their travels, Caroline Chance Earls and her husband, Ryan, began to recognize that there was untapped culinary potential in their own backyard of Gainesville, Florida. It didn’t take them long to start talking about what it would be like to run a local food tour company of their own.
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"On our tours we have locals looking to get out of a food rut, college students learning about their temporary home, parents of college students helping their children settle in, international students (one who had never tried mac and cheese!) and visitors for our sports and growing arts and culture scenes," Caroline says. "We also love Gainesville, so we hope that comes through on our tours."
Here's more on how they got their tours off the ground.
Caroline Chance Earls, 30, who runs the business with her husband, Ryan Earls, 33
My Day Job:
I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist and work at a private practice seeing individuals, couples and families. My husband, Ryan, is a client operations manager at an international HR software solutions company. Ryan also has his NFL agent's license and is the owner of Cover3 Representation.
The Side Gig:
Ryan and I are the owners, operators and tour guides of Gainesville Food Tour, which offers local, historical walking tours featuring delicious food at local and North Florida–based restaurants.
How I Got Into Leading Food Tours:
I had the opportunity to take a food tour in New York City with my mom back in 2009. It was so fun and informative that, when Ryan and I traveled to Europe in April 2014, we booked a street food tour in Palermo, Sicily. Ryan also quickly became hooked, so we proceeded to book food tours wherever we traveled, including the Bahamas, Las Vegas and another trip back to New York.
Then we started batting around the idea of a food tour company in Gainesville.
We knew that we had a pretty special downtown area in terms of food and history. There are over 20 restaurants that span the range of food, from barbecue cooked in a specialty smoker to a family-owned pan-Latin restaurant, all within walking distance. The area’s history includes Native American villages, Civil War battles and there's even some proof that a presidential election was fixed in downtown Gainesville.
In May of 2015 we decided to buy the domain name for the website and move forward with building the business.
How Much Time I Dedicate to It—and the Payoff:
It depends on the week, but on average we spend about 10 hours between the two of us on the business. Some weeks, like when we’re developing new tour ideas and building relationships with community partners, it's more. Initially, we worked on everything together: developing a business plan, filing for the LLC, writing our historical script and approaching restaurants together. Recently, we split many recurring duties, and we each have restaurants that we are responsible for. I developed and maintain our website, and Ryan handles more of the financial and back-end business side. We run each tour together.
We charge $48.99 for our standard Downtown Walking Tour, which, over the course of three hours, includes a guided tour and a substantial amount of food from five or six establishments. We often offer our customers promotions and discount codes, which take between 10% to 15% off the price of the tour package.
Ticket sales help pay for all the food, as we want to offer a quality product and support our local businesses—in other words, we don't get anything for free. We max our tours out at 12 to 14 people, and the last five have sold out. We try to keep costs around 50% of the total ticket price, so that means we typically take home a little over $300 per fully-booked tour.
Currently, our limitation is that Ryan and I do all the tours ourselves, and we are often out of town traveling on our own. Our hope is to hire an additional tour guide so we can offer more tour dates. We’re also developing a nighttime tour and tours for other parts of town.
What I Do With My Side Gig Income:
While we are currently reinvesting our Gainesville Food Tour earnings in our business, we hope to use the extra income for travel and date nights. That’s how we fell in love with the idea of the business in the first place, and it’s important for us to have quality time and adventure in our lives.
The Best Thing About My Side Gig:
Working with my husband! We love people, food and Gainesville, and we’re both very busy and driven, so to have a common vision and passion and extra time together to build something has been awesome.
The Most Challenging Thing About My Side Gig:
The answer to that is also working with my husband, and Ryan says the same about working with me! It is definitely a transition to go from our married roles into our professional roles, but I think we've learned a lot about communication and compromise from working together.
Also, we are passionate about our day jobs, so we have to be intentional about dedicating time, energy and resources into growing and sustaining our business.
My Best Advice for Someone Who Wants to Try This:
You have to have a passion for food and for the city you live in. There are organizations where you can pay to be trained in this specific type of venture, but because of Ryan's business experience, we didn't go that route. One of the best things we did starting out was contacting the owners of tours we'd been on before to get advice about developing our own.
The only thing we'd do differently is the timing of our first walk—it was literally the hottest day of the year, so I wouldn't recommend that! But even our "mistakes" have been excellent growing and learning experiences for us.