The Mad Hoppers
C-bus culinary culture builds around local food tours
By Kimberly StolzPublished July 27, 2012
Twelve lawyers are standing around a tree stump pounding nails …
This isn’t the start of a joke, but rather the scene at Watershed Distillery during a recent FoodHop tour stop.
Partaking in a traditional German game, Hammerschlagen, as part of their introduction to the Grandview microdistillery, the hammer is swung timidly until Watershed’s Greg Lehman starts egging the group on. Soon, nail-pounding trash talk erupts and the group is laughing between thwacks.
Taking pictures is FoodHop co-founder Angela An, who watches the game with a smile.
“They come as strangers, but leave as friends,” she says. After a tour of the industrial space, the Hop is off to Barcelona and Park Street.
There are two kinds of foodies in this world: the first keep their restaurant scoops to themselves, lest the palate-challenged masses crowd the venue, while the second offers up their discoveries on a silver platter. FoodHop, which An runs with her partner Christy McKinney, is firmly planted in the latter camp.
“There is nothing that gives us greater pleasure than feeding people,” said McKinney over a plate of sushi panini at Moshi Sushi, a stop on the popular Sushi Hop.
After doing private hops for two years, the two gastronauts started inviting the public to their roving party last November. “Our whole idea was that we wanted to bring people out of their natural food element,” said An. “Restaurants loved the idea because it brought new people to them, while we get a chance to show off the great eateries around Columbus.”
“People in Dublin don’t leave Dublin,” added McKinney. “You know, Gahanna is not all that far from us at all, but people from German Village don’t know there’s a great Italian restaurant there – Mezzo.”
Food has been central to the lives of both women since they were knee high. McKinney comments that An’s family can shut down a buffet, while An notes that McKinney can take a bare bones pantry and create an amazing meal.
“I grew up where my uncle owned a restaurant in Philadelphia and anytime we’d go down and help, all the little cousins would be in the back,” recalled the Jersey-native An. “We would mix soy, ketchup, mustard, pepper, every single thing that we could find, to make sauces and try to sneak them into the line, but we’d get found out and then promptly kicked out.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum, McKinney grew up on a farm in Washington Court House. One of six kids, the family did not venture often to restaurants. Instead, she found her love for good food in the kitchen. “In the late ’70s, I decided that I was going vegetarian, I was a total hippie and I decided I couldn’t eat pot roast on Sundays and chicken ‘n dumplings on Tuesdays,” she said. “I needed more lettuce and I needed to start eating like a rabbit, so I started cooking and realized I loved to cook … I started experimenting and I never used recipes.”
In addition to her home-cooked shenanigans, McKinney deepened her appreciation for grand cuisine while general manager at the legendary Handke’s Cuisine, learning much from chef Hartmut Handke, winner of 38 gold medals in an array of national and international competitions. “I am somewhat of a food snob – I can’t help it. I just like really good food,” she shrugged.
An credits McKinney’s food knowledge with the Hop’s success, while she herself is the programming and planning expert. Except for when it comes to sushi. According to McKinney, An is a sushi junkie, “sushi is her crack.” So much so that there is even a roll at Sushi Bistro Scotty named after An and her husband – the Dongela Roll.
The two try to focus on local, independent restaurants while also being open to suggestions from customers. It’s through listening to the hoppers, as well as following their own creative muses, that ideas for new hops take shape. “We listen to them to see what’s trending,” explained An. “For example, we knew distilleries were huge, but we didn’t want to do all distilleries, so we thought, ‘How do we mix it up?’ We did a cigar and distillery tour and it was a huge success; people are asking us when we’re going to do the next one.”
McKinney adds that she now views the world through a FoodHop lens.
“Whenever I go anywhere, I think, Oh wow, somebody else would enjoys this too … I wanna share this.”
In addition to the hops, An and McKinney also host Women Who Wine on Wednesdays on the second Wednesday of every month. The event moves from venue to venue, but one thing stays the same: giving back to the community. “Our charity of choice is MidOhio Food Bank and a portion of each WWWW goes directly to them,” said McKinney.
During the dog days of August, the mad hoppers take a break and are preparing for a fabulous fall season. There’s talk of a craft beer hop, a dinner under the stars at Rockmill Brewery in Lancaster and more. Surely, there will be more nail pounding and more food discoveries.
“What we like to say it that it’s food, fun and experience,” said An. “But what it really is is making new friends – that’s the fun thing to watch.”
For information on the FoodHop experiences and Women Who Wine on Wednesdays, visit www.food-hop.com.