appearance on Studio 62 with Jamarcus Gaston Talking about Brevard Bites Food Tours!
Sixteen-year-old Matthew Sharpsteen brings food tours to town
By Emily Glaser, WNC Magazine
Less than a decade ago, parts of Brevard were a veritable ghost town. The town’s industry fell when three factories shuttered in 2005, and that was soon exacerbated by the Great Recession. But in a heartwarming rendering of the little town that could, the folks of Brevard brought the community back to life with a smattering of stylish eateries that fostered a fledgling tourism scene. At the epicenter of Brevard’s modern-day food tourism stands a surprising figure: 16-year-old Matthew Sharpsteen.
The antithesis of your typical teen, Sharpsteen doesn’t greet you with a moody glare but with a genuine grin. The common high schooler’s disdain for learning is replaced with a fervor for knowledge. And where most teenagers might grudgingly shuffle to part-time work, Sharpsteen operates his own business.
After a brief stint in Chicago, Sharpsteen returned to Brevard this spring, armed with a big-city idea: Brevard Bites Food Tours. A flexible homeschooling schedule, thriving
relationships with local restauranteurs, his family’s
multigenerational passion for good food, and experience in tour guiding (he began volunteering with the unofficial Hunger Games Tour when he was just 10) made Sharpsteen an ideal proprietor.
Brevard Bites is the first and only food tour in Brevard, a town where the population grows from a sleepy 7,000 to 32,000 during peak summer months. “Basically, vacationing is eating in a place you’ve never been before,” Sharpsteen explains when asked why food tours are booming in touristy towns across Western North Carolina. “If [tourists] start with a food tour, that immediately gives them an opportunity to try six different restaurants. … A vacation becomes so much more when you learn about the history and culture of the town and get to know some of the people behind the scenes who make the town what it is.”
Sharpsteen escorts hungry tourists to some of the best eateries in Brevard, where they sample bite-size dishes and meet the chefs. The tours begin at Wine Down on Main, then venture to five other destinations, like Blue Ridge Bakery and Brevard Brewing Company. Sharpsteen is quick to offer gratitude to the restaurants with which he partners, and it’s clearly a symbiotic relationship. “Over the last few years, the town has really come together to create something beautiful,” he says with a toothy smile. Indeed, it’s a fulfilling pursuit for all.
Brevard Bites - Tours are offered Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 2-4:30 p.m., and custom tours are available. $39 per person, tickets must be purchased online; (828) 565-2483; www.brevardbitesfoodtours.com
Teen Entrepreneur is Tour Guide to Food Scene
By Steve Wong, Times-News Correspondent
September 4, 2016
BREVARD — Whether you are among the some-7,000 residents who live in Brevard yearround or the 32,000 tourists who sight see during spring, summer and fall, you’ve got to eat, and 16-year-old Matthew Sharpsteen has a food tour that gives you both a taste and the vibe of the city.
“Do what?” yelled one of the 10 people on the tour hoofing it through downtown Brevard on a recent Saturday afternoon. “You’re only 16 years old?”
“I am!” the young man walking backwards with a big smile on his face yelled in reply. “I just got my drivers license a few weeks ago.” Everyone in the group laughed. There were a lot of laughs during the two-and-a-half-hour Brevard Bites Food Tour because Sharpsteen knows how to keep a group on schedule, engaged and happy.
Touring people seems to be his calling, he said. He recently spent time in Chicago, touring people in a city about which he knew very little. He admits that he faked it with good humor.
Those in the Brevard group who didn’t already know Sharpsteen’s age were surprised. He’s young, but he knows his stuff. He knows sophisticated foods and how to pronounce their names. He knows beverages that he’s too young to drink. He knows “fun facts” about Brevard because he went to the library to study them. And it seems he knows just about everyone in downtown Brevard. As he toured, he was constantly saying “hey” to and hugging shopkeepers.
“Matthew was an excellent tour guide, knowledgeable, personable and engaging,” said Marlaine Belanger, a Brevard resident who took the tour. “He had a rapport with the owners and chefs, as well as the guests on the tour. At 16, he’s light years ahead of most 20-somethings.”
The group of 10 strangers met at 2 p.m. at Wine Down on Main, a small wine cafe. Sharpsteen was bustling about, making sure each place setting at the bar was complete with waiver (“In case you get hit by a tourist”), name card, name tag, color brochure, printed itinerary, discount coupon, bottle of water, and wine glass. As each guest came in, he or she was greeted with an enthusiastic handshake and round of introductions.
With only 20 minutes scheduled for each stop, Sharpsteen knew he had to keep things moving and quickly brought the gathering to order. After a lighthearted welcome, he introduced the restaurant’s manager, who told everyone a little bit about the shop and gave them a taste of what was offered — a sip of an Italian Prosecco and a small plate with an assortment of cheeses, bread and olives. The day’s guests included local professionals and visitors from Wilmington and Upstate South Carolina. Some have come from as far away as Atlanta and Pittsburgh.
“This is a great idea!” said Patti Butler, Wine Down’s co-owner. “It really gives the tourist a way to get a taste of all the amazing food Brevard has to offer. Matthew is such an engaging, funny, detailed and knowledgeable guy. Brevard Bites is new and very informative, professional and upbeat. And we get publicity and the chance to meet new folks who are visiting the area.”
“I moved here from New Orleans,” Belanger said. “So I can appreciate good food and think that for the size of our community, Brevard has first-class dining experiences. I am a travel agent and have taken various food tours around the world."
The streets of downtown Brevard are busy during the summer, full of tourists and locals enjoying the vibrant atmosphere. Like a pied piper, Sharpsteen led his followers to the next five food stops, and along the way was a fount of local trivia and spirited conversation. The venues were Blue Ridge Bakery, Hobnob Restaurant, Jordan Street Cafe, Brevard Brewing Company & Quixote Fine Cuisine, and Kiwi Gelato. The food and drinks ranged from Greek treats and Seafood Newburg to zucchini blossom soup and craft beer.
“Brevard Bites Food Tours was my idea,” Sharpsteen said after the tour. “I have had many years of tour guiding experience, and I knew I wanted to start my very own tour company. Brevard has such a robust culinary community with over 40 restaurants that it shocked me that no one had thought of the idea before me. Brevard's quirkiness and welcoming atmosphere of Southern hospitality combined with its great food all helped to inspire me to start up this company.”
To his credit, Sharpsteen, a rising home-schooled junior, did his homework. For the past five months, he developed his concept. In addition to selling his idea to restaurants and working out the details, he has demonstrated marketing savvy by creating a user-friendly website — BrevardBitesFoodTours.com— a professionally designed logo, color rack cards, a social media platform (on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and textbook perfect news releases.
“The business community in Brevard is phenomenal, and they have been so enthusiastic about the launch of Brevard Bites Food Tours and encouraging to me,” he said. “Since my mom has a lot of experience in marketing and business consulting, she's been a tremendous help.”
Having launched his tours in August, Sharpsteen hopes to add more restaurants to his list and create a second “classic” tour, as well as a dessert tour. Currently, he tours Thursday, Friday and Saturday starting at 2 p.m. The tickets are $39 per person, and tips are never turned down.
“I definitely would take the tour again, and plan to take friends and relatives,” Belanger said. “It’s a great overview of our food scene and the personality of our town. I think locals would enjoy this tour as much as visitors. And another interesting thing happened along the way,” she added. “We got to know the others on the tour and were thoroughly enjoying the camaraderie.”
Ever the entrepreneur, Sharpsteen said, “I want people to know that Brevard Bites is a fabulous way to start off your vacation and explore restaurants you've never been to. I recommend taking the tour at the beginning of the their trip so that they can go back to their favorite stops and take advantage of a 10 percent off coupon.
"It truly is the best way to explore downtown Brevard's culinary scene, and at the same time explore its wonderful history and eclectic culture. It's an awesome way to meet Brevard's most interesting people!”
To book a tour, visit www.brevardbitesfoodtours.com or call 828-565-2483 (BITE).
16-Year-Old Launchses Brevard Bites Food Tours
July 28, 2016
Brevard Bites Food Tours has announced the launch of its Brevard-based food tour company, offering guided culinary walking tours through downtown Brevard. The tours, part of a growing trend of culinary food tours, will offer guests food tastings at local restaurants and food specialty shops where guests will enjoy tapas-sized portions of house specialties and drink pairings, while viewing the city's architectural features and learning interesting tidbits about the town's history..
Some of the food stops on the tour will include Marco Trattoria, Jordan Street Café, Hobnob, Wine Down, Broad Street Wines, Blue Ridge Bakery, The Proper Pot, and Kiwi Gelato. The tours will last approximately two-and-a-half hours and will visit six restaurants during each walking tour.
"I'm excited to showcase the best restaurants in Brevard," said 16-year-old owner Matthew Sharpsteen. "My goal is to introduce the amazing cuisine we have here to both locals and visitors alike, and encourage guests to slow down and truly enjoy the charm of downtown while learning about Brevard's fun and entertaining history and culture."
Sharpsteen says all food tour stops have one thing in common – a commitment to quality fresh fare and personable one-on-one rapport with guests. While sampling, guests will enjoy talks with chefs and owners, learning about their commitment and passion for great food. During the food tour, guests may learn about different wines, taste a unique "white squirrel cocktail," sample tasty bites from one of many categories (charcuterie, chocolates, etc.), and chat one-on-one with the chefs.
"It's very exciting to be a restaurant partner for the Brevard Bites Food Tours," said Patty Fisk, co-owner of Wine Down on Main. "This tour is a wonderful addition to our community. We're proud of partnerships like this that draw people together to explore our town and support small businesses."
Clark Lovelace, executive director of the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber and Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority, said that whether one is a local resident or visiting Brevard for the first time, taking a walking food tour is a great way to experience the true essence of Brevard.
"Brevard is blessed with a great culinary scene, a charming downtown, and a rich history," said Lovelace. "BrevardBites Food Tours combines these to offer a truly unique experience."
Brevard Mayor Jimmy Harris said, "Brevard has such a unique and eclectic menu mix in our restaurants that having a popular "food tour" is no surprise! Having quality fine dining is a large part of Brevard's economic success!"
In fact, culinary tourism is quickly proving to be one of the world's fastest growing industries. In October 2015, the first Global Food Tourism Conference (GFTC) was held in Chicago, solidifying the food tour industry as a booming and vibrant segment in global tourism.
Sharpsteen said he's ready to meet the demand in Brevard, even offering tours in Japanese, a language in which he is fluent.
Tickets for Brevard Bites Food Tours are $39 each and can be purchased online at http://www.brevardbitesfoodtours.com. The tours will begin at 2 p.m. and will operate Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays throughout the year. Private group tours and gift certificates are also available by calling (828) 565-2483. Brevard Bites Food Tours can also be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.