Since launching Tasty Road Trips in 2018, Jan Vilaca has been successfully growing her reputation for delivering an array of rich and diverse culinary experiences via tours throughout Brant County and across Ontario.
However, Vilaca’s journey originally started as a part-time side business.
“I had a side hustle selling gourmet food while doing my corporate 9 to 5 job. I was invited to a home party one day 17 years ago [and] I was really quite intrigued with this woman who was selling gourmet food. I loved the food. I loved the concept. I thought it was really fun,” Vilaca said.
Vilaca continued, “And I decided to have a party myself and that was the beginning of everything that has unfolded for me…This woman, who I ended up working with for four years, taught me a lot about myself, about sales, about marketing, and about how food builds community.”
After four years of working closely with her business mentor, Vilaca decided to take on a new challenge.
“I caught wind of a new company in Canada. And I ended up switching lanes and going to the competition…because I already had the experience, I was very successful. I [also] made some really nice trips around the world…[growing my] understanding of…community, food, farming and sourcing,” noted Vilaca.
Vilaca continued, “Every time I went on one of those trips, they treated us to a food tour. So, my first contact with food tourism was through global experiences and global travel….I wouldn’t have known about this concept if I hadn’t taken a chance on myself and become a sales consultant for a gourmet food company.”
However, in 2017, Vilaca came to a realization that would change the trajectory of her life and career forever.
“I was walking in Paris, and doing my own shopping on a Saturday…and all of a sudden that light bulb went off and went, ‘I think I’m walking my own food tour every week.’ And so that was really the catalyst! I had this global knowledge but I never thought about it being something in my community. I always thought food tourism was about travel. And then I realized that Paris was a lovely place to help people explore through their senses—their tastes, smells, sights and sounds,” stated Vilaca.
With her new idea, Vilaca’s first call was to the County of Brant Economic Development and Tourism team.
Vilaca, who is also a certified coach, stated, “I had already branded and marketed myself as ‘Spicy Jan’ when I was selling gourmet food. I presented this really good business idea to [County of Brant] and that was how it all started.”
“People knew about going to St. Lawrence Market [in Toronto] and having a food tour, or [going to] to Mexico and having a food tour, but something around here…in small-town Ontario, that concept was very foreign,” added Vilaca.
Vilaca, who has been keen on showcasing local businesses, noted, “My whole mantra right from the beginning was to help you walk through the door of places you’ve maybe seen, heard about, or never knew was even there… I wanted to create a business around food…that allows people to become more familiar with small-town Ontario…It started in Paris, but now it’s in multiple communities. My end goal has always been highlighting small towns with big tastes, where food builds community.”
However, through Vilaca’s continued efforts to build a strong brand, Tasty Road Trips has grown steadily in popularity.
Vilaca, who won the Community Influencer Award at the Salute to Brant Business Awards in 2019, said, “My clients are typically finding out about me through… travel and food bloggers who have written about me [and] went on the tours. Their blogs are high in search engines through Google. And I’m listed as something unique and highly-rated to do in Paris. And then I have really high Google reviews and a really strong following on Instagram, and Facebook.”
Vilaca then explained some of the tours that Tasty Road Trips offered.
“Our walking tour in Paris is our most popular…and I have a self-guided driving tour in Norfolk County/Port Dover—it is my second most popular tour because it really takes you into the agricultural lens of food….eating local and being on farms,” she said.
“On our tours, they’re all-inclusive, and they’re self-guided…you go to between six and nine different destinations to do some kind of tasting or multi-sensory experience. What’s new is ‘Spicy Jan’s Mystery Food Tour’, which came to light because there are so many other awesome places to sit and eat and explore that aren’t on our tours…it is anywhere in the Hamilton, Halton, Milton, and Norfolk regions. Guests who choose the mystery food tour have to be willing to drive one hour in a one-hour radius of where they live,” said Vilaca.