Eastern Ontario Business Journal: Butter tart tour? Culinary tourism is flourishing in the region

Eastern Ontario culinary tourism
Editor's Note

Editor’s note: Check out the spring edition of the Eastern Ontario Business Journal for more news from the region.

What does every tourist do while travelling? Eat, and usually three times a day. 

But nowadays, not only do travellers eat en route and at their destination, the food itself is increasingly becoming the destination or reason for travel. 

“Culinary tourism is a growing trend just about everywhere as consumers become smarter about where their food comes from and crave a connection to the people who grew and produced it,” says Gabrielle Mueller, marketing manager for the Culinary Tourism Alliance (CTA). 

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Farm-to-table restaurants, farmers’ markets, food festivals, culinary tours — anything food-related is hot, hot, hot and wise business owners are keeping this in mind, she says. 

“Even if you aren’t a traditional culinary tourism business, food can enhance any visitor experience for the better or the worse. Sourcing local and being transparent about where your food comes from is an excellent way to drive traffic to your business and drive dollars into your local economy,” she adds. 

In a 2008 study by tourism academic Bob McKercher, food was ranked alongside accommodations, climate and scenery as equally important to tourists. According to Mueller, Eastern Ontario is primed to receive tourists seeking all these things. 

The Hotel Rideau at 20 Beckwith St N in Smiths Falls.

“With access to an extensive waterway system combined with some of Ontario’s most fertile agricultural land, it only makes sense that Eastern Ontario’s culinary tourism scene is growing,” she says.

Mike Shelley is co-owner of Hotel Rideau, a boutique hotel and long-term residences operation in Smiths Falls. In 2022, he got involved with the iconic heritage building, which was built in 1901 and underwent extensive renovations, as hotel operator. 

He concurs that food and tourism go hand-in-hand. On the main floor of Hotel Rideau is C’est Tout Bakery and Bistro. 

“There’s a bakery right on the main floor that you can have dinner at. It’s a health-conscious, higher-quality restaurant, more natural flavours,” he said. 

Promotional partnerships with C’est Tout and other local eateries are gaining in popularity. “We’re getting traction with people booking kind of little staycations. We teamed up with the bakery to offer really good deals on brunch for two or dinner for two,” said Shelley. 

On the main floor of Hotel Rideau is C’est Tout Bakery and Bistro
Hotel Rideau’s main floor is home to C’est Tout Bakery and Bistro

While business travel to the Smiths Falls area has lessened as Canopy Growth has reduced its footprint and operations in the town, tourist reservations are growing, he adds. “Being able to eat right here, at the hotel, or somewhere local in town is desirable.”

And with inflation pushing up the cost of living, budgets for recreation are tighter, he admits. 

“People are looking for things they can do closer to home,” says Shelley. “As inflation has climbed, you just see people are tighter with their money. You have to get creative.” 

That’s one reason his hybrid model is ideal, says Shelley, with the long-term residences providing business security in a changing economy. 

The Whitewater Inn in Beachburg in Renfrew County is another establishment that has the accommodation-food connection nailed down. The inn features four suites and is known for its farm-to-fork specialty dinners and other offers, many linked to food. An example: hiking retreats in June and September that include breakfasts, lunches and multi-course gourmet dinners featuring locally grown and seasonal food items. Jamieson Travel and Valley Cycle Tours — where the public can rent bikes and e-bikes and also book shuttles and luggage transfer tours — is located on site.  

The CTA’s vision is to ensure food tourism is a meaningful and sustainable contributor to local economies and that communities can grow food tourism by leveraging the culture, heritage and history behind the culinary offerings that make each destination unique. 

With visitors and locals increasingly asking where their food is sourced, restaurants are becoming more transparent about sourcing practices and taking part in certifications like CTA’s Feast On certification (a local food certification that audits food spend on local), Green Step and Rainbow Registered to showcase their business’s values up front. 

Current hot topics in the tourism world are sustainability and regenerative tourism, says Mueller. 

“As such, eating local and contributing to local economies is more important than ever. In Eastern Ontario, we’ve seen a large increase in food experiences that include everything from spending an afternoon with a beekeeper in Tamworth, to cooking lunch with a chef out in the bush,” she says. “You can go whitewater rafting and then enjoy a locally sourced meal in Ontario’s Highlands, or take in a guided Feast On certified tour to Prince Edward County, based on supporting the area’s many wineries and breweries.” 

Each of these experiences is a meaningful way to connect with food producers, as well as support them financially, she adds. 

In Lennox and Addington, Mackinnon Brothers Brewing is a farm brewery with hops grown on site. It hosts some epic events and its Harvest Lager
Mackinnon Brothers Brewing farm brewery in Lennox and Addington.

Seven not-to-miss food experiences in and around Eastern Ontario: 

  • Kingston is home to eight Feast On certified restaurants, each offering a unique cuisine  
  • In Lennox and Addington, Mackinnon Brothers Brewing is a farm brewery with hops grown on site. It hosts some epic events and its Harvest Lager (made with 100-per-cent grown-on-property ingredients) is a must-try 
  • In Ontario’s Highlands, Madawaska Kanu Centre and OWL rafting offer whitewater rafting trips with locally sourced meals along the way 
  • In Peterborough and Kawarthas, RARE Escape (soon to be Camp Kitchen) offers meals made by Chef Tyler Scott out in the woods on paddling and hiking adventures 
  • Prince Edward County is seeing an update in the Feast On certification at businesses such as Littlejohn Farm, The Drake Devonshire, Sand and Pearl, the Waring House, Decanter PEC, Parsons Brewing Company and the County Picnic  
  • You can Taste the Trent Severn Waterway and plan multiple trips around celebrating the flavours of this National Historic Site 
  • The Kawartha Butter Tart Tour is a can’t-miss 

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