Jan is the host of the Clement Street Food Tour in the Inner Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. She loves to mix her passion for the city’s history and global cuisine with locals and travelers in her favorite neighborhood. With over 10 years of hosting experience, she shares with us a few tricks up her sleeve about how to craft a unique experience, how she anticipates guests’ needs, and what she’s learned along the way.
What about your experience makes it uniquely you? Why could no one else host what you host?
Well, the tour is 100% my tour—meaning it was my idea and reflects my extensive research, my passion for the neighborhood, my relationships with the business owners and my commitment to trying every restaurant, not just on my tour, but on the street. I’ve dedicated the tour to my son because his middle school bus dropped him smack in the center of the tour route, and he was always starving! So my research began ten years ago, as we tried every place on Clement Street. We were so thorough that I gained ten pounds! It was a labor of love.
Another thing I bring to the experience is that I’ve been a tour guide in SF for 10 years, so I know a fair amount about the city, not just Clement Street. I can suggest other things visitors might want to do, like seeing the latest exhibition at the deYoung or Legion of Honour museums, where I am a docent, or taking SFCityGuides tours, like the ones I lead. I can recommend my favorite hiking trails in SF, where I live now, or in Marin, where I used to live.
But the main thing that makes the tour unique, I think, is my focus. There are many food tours out there, but I believe mine is a little bit different because my goal is for visitors to experience history through food. Although we eat a lot of amazing food, the food acts as a catalyst for thinking about how the neighborhood, and by extension, the whole of San Francisco, has changed over time and how it is still changing.
How do you accommodate guests’ needs, and how do you make each guest feel special?
My first step, after a guest signs up, is to send a detailed message, describing logistics and asking if they have any food preferences or special needs. It’s important to me that everyone is able to enjoy the tour, so I accommodate their needs to the best of my ability.
In their replies, visitors often let me know if it is a special occasion or why they chose the tour, which is really helpful. When we meet, I start the tour by asking them some questions, which is a good icebreaker. It’s important for me to know what experiences they’ve had already so I can gauge how to build on that knowledge.
While walking from stop to stop, I do my best to chat with each guest. This is one of my favorite parts of the tour, getting to know new people.
What have you changed in your experience since you first started?
From time to time I’ve changed some of the venues for various reasons. The biggest obstacle has been matching opening days and hours to tour times. Also, a food tour has to strike a balance; you want foods that are exciting, unique and delicious without being too threatening or challenging for anyone. You don’t want to miss the buzzy places, but you have to include hidden gems too. Since I started giving the tour, new places have opened and I have added some of them to the route. I’ve also learned the importance of sending a reminder the day before the tour reiterating the starting time and place.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started hosting?
At the outset, I expected to have mostly out-of-town visitors. I have hosted visitors from all over the world, travelers looking to immerse themselves in a less touristy neighborhood, a place where local people live and hang out and especially eat. But I’ve been surprised by how many locals have signed up, wanting to learn more about their city’s history and architecture. Also, people from communities just outside San Francisco, eager to experience a neighborhood through local eyes. The other group that surprised me were the neighborhood residents, who have pulled me aside during the tour to tell me how proud they are to see outsiders enjoying their favorite haunts.
What has been especially gratifying is when I hear from guests that they’ve returned to the places we visited. I was giving a tour one afternoon and bumped into a man who had taken my tour six months earlier. He lives in the neighborhood, but had never ventured into the market we visited on the tour. Now, he goes there all the time. A visitor from New York told me that whenever she comes to SF to visit her grown son, she now knows where to go for the best croissants, the best housewares, and so on. A guest from China related how he recreated the tour for his teenage daughter.