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The Daily Tar Heel

Foodie tours spice up Hillsborough

Bring gourmet to Hillsborough

Hoping to lure foodies with local produce, gourmet chocolate and wine tastings, Hillsborough began a new tour program this weekend.

Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours held its first tour in Hillsborough on Saturday, visiting the Eno River Farmers Market, the Wooden Nickel, Matthew’s Chocolates, Cup A Joe, Hillsborough Wine Company and Panciuto.

Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said the tours are an excellent way to expand the town’s tourism sector.

“We’re finding more and more people are coming to Hillsborough because of the food,” he said. “I just know that it will add to the overall vitality of the economy and the town.”

For $41 a person, the tour allows groups of about 12 to visit five to eight local restaurants for tastings and a chance to observe the food service process or ask chefs about their work.

Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours co-founder Lesley Stracks said by going to area markets, tourists see how restaurants use locally-grown ingredients in their kitchens.

“We’re hoping that people who live in the Triangle, but don’t know Hillsborough, come and see it,” she said.

The program also provides tours in downtown Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Patty Griffin, director of communications for the Chapel Hill-Orange County Visitor’s Bureau, said the county relies heavily on tourism, which brought in $135 million to the area in 2009.

Although Chapel Hill brings in significantly more tourists than Hillsborough because of its ties to UNC, Stracks said the towns do not compete.

“It’s not so much about competition, but cooperation,” she said. “They all maintain the similar goal to bring people to the Orange County district while competing with other areas.”

As another way to promote tourism, Hillsborough has a 1 percent tax on prepared food and beverage services. Revenue from the tax, which brought in $40,000 last year, is divided between the town’s tourism center and local events like the annual Celebration of the Automobile Car Show.

Griffin said the county visitor’s center has an annual budget of $975,000, which is then divided between the three towns. Hillsborough receives approximately $70,000 to promote its tourism sector.

Stevens said the town is creating a trail that goes through the major historical and natural landmarks to attract visitors.

“What you’ll find in Hillsborough is primarily a small town experience, but it has a very distinctive history,” he said.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said he supports Hillsborough’s attempts to widen its tourist appeal.

“Chapel Hill, Hillsborough and Carrboro have a synergistic relationship when it comes to tourism,” he said. “When one does well, the others do well.”

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