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“Where should we eat?”

It's a common question uttered in countless homes across the country on any given evening.

In Black Mountain, there is a plethora of potential responses. Creative Mountain Food Tours offers guests a detailed look at many of them, and fall brings the arrival of the walking tour’s busiest season. 

The business had been around for two years when current owners Sam and Alli Shirey signed up for a tour. 

“We went on the tour, and about halfway through, people were asking the previous owner historical questions like ‘how old is Black Mountain?’ and things like that,” Sam said before leading a group on an Ultimate Foodie Tour, one of several experiences offered by the Black Mountain-based business. “The focus of the tour at that point was primarily on the food. I knew the answers to a lot of the questions, so I asked if she minded if I answered. She welcomed it, and by the end of the tour I’d answered a lot of questions.”

Sam, who was recently appointed board chair for the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center, agreed to lead the tours. The Shireys bought the business three years ago. 

Sam and Alli have added to the menu of Creative Mountain Food Tours, which partners with 24 local businesses. In addition to the Ultimate Foodie Tour, they offer a Pub and Grub Crawl, a Dessert Tour and private tours. 

Each experience includes the tastes and history of the region. 

“I also lead some of the hikes for the museum and I share a lot of the history of the Swannanoa Valley on the food tours,” Sam said before embarking on a Saturday tour. “I usually do that at our second-to-last stop, right before we go to BAD Craft. That gives me 10 - 15 minutes to share the history of the region.”

The Oct. 5 tour gathered on a misty afternoon in the Merry Wine Market, where participants were offered their choice of a sampling of Mammamango, a mango-infused sparkling white wine from Arione, or a locally made root beer. 

Exiting the State Street store, the group made its way up Church Street, before passing through the one-year anniversary celebration of Four Sisters Bakery and into the Red Rocker Inn. Owners Doug and Jenny Bowman shared a history of the inn, which was built in 1896. A sampling of roasted organic chicken, prepared by the Bowman’s daughter Kaylea Lamson, head chef at the 17-room bed and breakfast, was served. 

The Bowmans have participated in the Creative Mountain Food Tour since it began, Doug said. 

“We enjoy being part of this tour,” he said. “It’s a great chance to bring people in and introduce them to the Red Rocker Inn. We’ve had several people who learned about us through this tour and returned as guests.”

Sam shared historical accounts of several of the homes on Connally Street as the tour made its way back toward downtown. 

Tom and Suzy Truax, of Falconer, New York, were traveling through the area on their way to Florida to visit their daughter, and decided to try out the tour after a couple of days of sightseeing.

“We’ve had a great time while we’ve been here,” Tom said. “This tour is a unique way to experience the town, which seems like it has a lot of good restaurants for such a small town.”

The next stop on the tour was a popular brunch spot in town, where participants were treated to a sample of biscuits and gravy and homemade lemonade from Louise’s Kitchen. 

A quick trip next door featured a charcuterie plate, known as the Butcher Board, at Foothills Butcher Bar. The sampler features cuts of house-made deli meats, local cheese and items like pickled watermelon rinds. 

Sam and Alli led the group to North Fork Kitchen, where co-owner Vicki Preston served up the Cherry Street restaurant’s pulled pork Southwest Bowl. The two-and-a-half-hour concluded with a beer and sweet treat from neighboring BAD Craft. 

“These are butter pecan cookies,” owner Randy Giles told the tour. “They were made right here in town at Four Sisters Bakery, which you guys walked by earlier in the tour. I’ve paired them with a local, seasonal Oktoberfest beer for you guys.”

The collaborative efforts of local businesses is an aspect of the tour that stands out to many of the approximately 270 participants each year. 

“Black Mountain is such an awesome place,” Sam said. “We have such a great business community and tremendous restaurants. We like to focus on how many of our restaurants use local products to make their food, which I think is part of what makes our local food scene so special.”

There are so many options to choose from, Creative Mountain Food Tours offers another Ultimate Foodie Tour featuring an entirely different line-up of local restaurants. 

“I love showing off our town,” Alli said. “We have so many great, locally owned businesses and many of the owners are involved in the tour. You can only get that in these small settings, like so many of the restaurants and places in town. Asheville is widely recognized as a foodie destination, but these tours are our way of saying: ‘Hey, Black Mountain has plenty to offer, too.’”

For more information, or to book a tour through Creative Mountain Food Tour, go to creativemountainfoodtours.com. 

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