A Flavour of the Local Food Scene with Belfast Food Tour
It’s been a favourite of locals for over a century. And thanks to Belfast Food Tour, a whole new generation of food fans have fallen for the delicious charm of St George’s Market, and the impressive local foodie scene which spreads out from the historic building around the cobbled streets of Belfast city centre.
A Vibrant Local Food Scene
The brainchild of former solicitor, Caroline Wilson, the walking tour sets off from the picturesque red-bricked arcade every Saturday morning. And with aisles packed full of local artisan producers and tasty fresh produce, the market is the perfect introduction to Belfast’s treasure trove of mouth-watering local delicacies. Just one of the stops along the action-packed tour, Caroline reveals her inspiration for starting up her own business. “Belfast Food Tour started over two and a half years ago with the idea of showcasing all the local food producers around the city centre and bringing people to places that I like to eat and drink in,” she explains. Taking notes from food tours she experienced on her travels, she works closely with local producers to add an authentic flavour to the tour. A hit since its inception, the tour continues to go from strength to strength. Just this month, Tourism NI awarded Taste & Tour NI a five-star grade for the Belfast Food Tour. “We all have to support each other and that’s the great thing about being in Northern Ireland,” Caroline says. “It’s such a small place - we all get to know each other very quickly. I don’t have a business if it’s not for those other small businesses. I rely on the producers, on the small businesses, and the local restaurants, to be as good as they are because I wouldn’t have anything to show anyone if it wasn’t for them.”
A Taste of Quality Produce
With food fans from around Northern Ireland and further afield joining the tour each week, the day starts off with a soothing cup of tea or steaming coffee before visitors get to sample locally produced breads and cakes from Ann’s Pantry. Manned by Allan Porter, the bakery brings fresh goods down to the market each weekend. A family-run business since 1967, Allan says the tour has helped bring new visitors all the way to Larne after they sample some of the Pantry’s specialities like Black Treacle Bread and Spelt & Black Pudding Potato Bread.
Along with sampling tasty baked goods, Caroline also guides visitors along a whistle-stop tour of the Belfast market stalls, bursting with the best of the local meat, fish and cheese industries. On hand to man the Broughgammon Farm stall, Freddie Cole is in demand as he introduces visitors to the farm’s unique veal and goat delicacies. A family business run by his mother and brother, Freddie says the food community is a close-knit one. He explains: “There is a whole concept of community between market traders. Everyone is here with the same aim, to make a living, and to promote their product. A lot of us work with speciality products which are shown on the (Belfast) Food Tour and it helps us to promote what we really care about.”
With the Northern Irish Year of Food and Drink placing local produce firmly on the stage, there is a real sense of excitement around the sector. And for Gracey Shellfish Ltd.’s Robert Gracey, the interest in the scene is not surprising. He says: “You have real quality here. We try to source as much as possible locally as we can - the quality of it is superb.”
Starting up & Succeeding
Moving on from the market, Caroline takes the group on a mystery tour of further gastronomic delights to sample the atmosphere and menu at local restaurants, cafés, and historic pubs. With an emphasis on showcasing locally produced food and drink, there is no shortage of inspiration and no chance that anyone could end this tour hungry.
Keen to encourage visitors to support local producers, Caroline is clearly passionate about the sector and relishes the chance to shine a spotlight on it. “I still can’t believe that I have my own business. It’s still a dream to me,” she explains. “Every day I do my work, but it doesn’t feel like work. I think if someone like me doesn’t shout about the great things that we have, who else is going to do it and get it out to our local market? A lot of people here are probably going to the supermarket and don’t see the small producers, who are local and doing wonderful things.”
Established in her former career, Caroline’s decision to move into a new sector was a bold one. But she says, “It has as much to do with right time and right place as much as it has to do with planning and organisation. It was just exactly the right time for me to do it. I don’t think I would have believed I would end up doing this three years ago.” She adds: “The idea of giving up a secure job to start your own business is a very scary thing, but I think if you know what you’re doing and have really tested the market, then it’s definitely something everyone should do and take the leap.”
Working with First Trust Bank
Now a popular stop on the hospitality and tourism trail in Belfast, Caroline also runs tours of local distilleries and creates bespoke tours and food experiences for private clients. And she says that support from First Trust Bank is vital to her success. “First Trust Bank have been a massive support from the beginning. I think they really have made business banking personal. As soon as I went in, they loved the idea, were massively behind it and they were 100% in my corner,” she explains. “If you don’t have a good relationship with your bank, there is no point. If they don’t understand your business or your needs, how can they provide you with a service that you need?”
With her sights set firmly on continuing to build the business, there have been plenty of pinch-me moments along the way. But one in particular stands out for Caroline. She happily admits: “My pinch-me moment is when I get to see someone else guide my tour. It’s amazing to see what you’ve created being delivered by someone else. It’s very special. I’m ecstatic with it and I love what I do every day.”
Find out more about how First Trust Bank can support your Start-Up business. Contact your local advisor today.