Feeding Her Soul
STORY: Amy Meadows
PHOTOS: Stephen Payne
It was 2014, and Cristy Lenz spent nearly every moment of every day on her phone. “My Blackberry could have been superglued to my hand,” she says, recalling her intense career as the director of coverage and supervisor of the national desk for CNN. Over 20 years, she had worked as a writer, producer and assignment editor at various national media outlets, eventually landing at the Atlanta-based network.
“When you work in the news, you live in this different place,” says Lenz. “You spend all of your time working. It is your life.” While she often wondered what her life would look like after her news career, it wasn’t until a serendipitous turn of events that she actually had a chance to find out.
During a trip to Paris, she ended up on a wine and cheese tour led by a woman who had left a corporate job to pursue her passion for food. “I was listening to her, and it was like she was talking directly to me,” remembers Lenz. “I immediately thought, ‘I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to quit my job, move to Paris and start a food tour.’ Then you get back home, jet-lagged, and reality crushes you. I thought, ‘I can’t afford to quit my job. I don’t speak French. I don’t know Paris. I’m not going to do this.’”
But she did know her Inman Park neighborhood and toyed with the idea of starting a food tour there on weekends. Again, her demanding news career made it impossible—until a fateful day two months later when she was laid off. Although she had leads for news jobs in New York, she didn’t want to leave Atlanta, and she was ready to pursue her food tour idea. The industry was in its infancy, so Lenz had to figure out the details of starting a food tour business. She found a course about how to set up a food tour through a company called Chicago Food Planet and signed up. In July 2015, she launched Food Tours Atlanta.
Today, the company offers two distinct tours: Historic Inman Park and Ponce City Market. Participants visit six restaurants and enjoy a tasting at each. To get locally owned restaurants involved initially, Lenz personally visited the eateries, explaining to the chefs and owners how their being on the tour could be mutually beneficial. She also illustrated how her tour would be a unique experience.
In addition to focusing on modern Southern food, Lenz discusses items of interest as participants walk between sites. “I’m a history nerd, and I include history on my food tour,” she explains. “Food tells the story of the neighborhood, so I’m highlighting the neighborhood in addition to the food. It all melts together into an experience of history, culture, art and food.”
The combination worked, and Food Tours Atlanta has taken off. Lenz has added two guides to assist her and has new events in development, including a dinner tour.
As she continues to move forward, she realizes the difference the career change has made in her life. “I’ve had two careers, and both have been incredible in different ways,” she says. “My new career has given me a whole new life. I went from living in a city I love to being part of the community. And there’s something special that happens when people share food together. It’s amazing that this was in my head and now it’s a real thing. And people like it. It’s amazing to have created something like that.”