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Local 'foodie' gives flavorful Pike Place tours

Produce vendor Brian Bright shares food samples and stories with tour participants Jan Meister and Linda Kaz, and guide Jan Marie Johnson at Pike Place Market.  - Denise Miller / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Produce vendor Brian Bright shares food samples and stories with tour participants Jan Meister and Linda Kaz, and guide Jan Marie Johnson at Pike Place Market.
— image credit: Denise Miller / Snoqualmie Valley Record

While vacationing in Italy, North Bend resident Jan Marie Johnson was “desperate” for fellow foodies to give her tours of the bustling comestibles markets of Venice, Florence and Rome.

“But nobody was doing that. They were all teaching cooking classes,” she said.

Upon returning home, she thought about Seattle’s Pike Place Market, where she often shopped while attending culinary school at South Seattle Community College, and realized there could be a demand for food-oriented tours of the iconic nine-acre marketplace.

Johnson launched into research, and was moved by Pike Place’s rich and colorful 101-year history.

“There’s more to the market than just food, fish and flowers,” she said. “It’s not only the culinary heartbeat, but it’s really the soul of what makes Seattle a great city.”

Combining her experience in sales and marketing for the Disney Company and directing special events for Universal Studios Hollywood with her culinary background, Johnson “put it all in a big stew pot to create Seattle Bites Food Tours.”

After developing relationships with several market merchants, from produce vendors to a German master butcher, Johnson created a three-hour tour that gives out-of-towners and locals alike a taste of market cuisine and a glimpse into Seattle’s storied past.

Participants learn the history of the market, including its populist founding, the internment of Japanese vendors following Pearl Harbor, and its hard-won achievement of historical landmark status in the 1970s after some city officials proposed its demolition.

Then there’s the nosh. Guests walk away with not only enhanced knowledge, but also full tummies.

The tour makes about about 10 tasting stops, where merchants share their own stories, as well as generous samples of their menus. A recent tour included tastes of banana-and-Nutella crêpes, award-winning clam chowder, freshly caught salmon, and a trio of Italian wines.

Johnson considers the merchants friends, and they in turn welcome guests with warmth. Jon Jacobs, owner of I Love New York Deli, passed around sandwiches and described what makes his pastrami so moist. La Buona Tavola’s wine steward, David Martin, shared photos of his latest truffle-hunting adventure.

“If you like food, I’ve got you. If you like history, that’s a bonus,” Johnson said.

Linda Kaz, who took the ferry from Whidbey Island to join a friend on the tour, liked both aspects. She said she’ll share her new market savvy with out-of-town guests when she takes them to the market.

“I can show them some of the places we stopped, and some of the delicious food that we sampled, and it will be a lot more interesting for them,” Kaz said.

• Seattle Bites Food Tours of Pike Place Market are available daily and cost $39.95 per person. A portion of ticket sales are donated to the market’s social services programs. For more information about the tours or to buy tickets, visit www.seattlebitesfoodtours.com.

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