Off the Beaten Path: Food, coffee tours that go beyond the plate, cup

  • Lizzie Bell and Sam Schlussel, who own Off the Beaten Path Food Tours, have expanded into downtown Northampton this fall. SUBMITTED PHOTO/SALTY RAVEN STUDIOS

  • Familiars Coffee & Tea’s blue pea powder tea. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Familiars Coffee & Tea co-owner Danny McColgan talks to tour guide Elisabeth Hogan about blue pea powder tea. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Em Withenbury talks to a tour group at Iconica Social Club.

  • Some food served to a tour at Iconica Social Club. Submitted photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/3/2019 11:34:03 PM

NORTHAMPTON — When Lizzie Bell and Sam Schlussel were looking for a new place to expand their Boston food tour business, Off the Beaten Path Food Tours, they were impressed by Northampton’s thriving coffee shop scene.

In the city, the couple sipped blue pea powder tea at Familiars Coffee & Tea and nitro hibiscus coffee at Northampton Coffee.

“We realized the coffee and tea that’s being sold is so unique, we can’t find a lot of these items in Boston,” Bell said.

That’s one reason that this fall, Off the Beaten Path expanded into western Massachusetts and began to offer both food and coffee shop tours in Northampton. Before the move, the furthest they had gone from Boston was Lowell.

Off the Beaten Path partners with downtown restaurants for the walking tours. The company offers Saturday afternoon coffee shop tours at $35 per person and Sunday afternoon food tours at $48 person.

The coffee shop tour focuses on drinks and snacks at stops including Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters, Dobrá Tea, Familiars Coffee & Tea and Iconica Social Club.

Sunday’s food tours are enough food for a “satisfying lunch,” Bell said, at stops including Local, Herrell’s Ice Cream and Hotel Northampton. The tour company pays the local cafes and restaurants for the food and drink.

“One of our favorite places is Local Burger,” Bell said. “Sam and I are addicted to the sweet potato fries with maple mayo.”

The couple started Off the Beaten Path Food Tours in 2017, first in Somerville’s Davis Sqaure and later adding tours in Cambridge and other parts of Boston, like Jamaica Plain. Though the company started in eastern Massachusetts, “It was always our goal to expand past the Boston area,” Bell said.

The duo looked at several other potential locations, including Easthampton and Amherst, before deciding on Northampton.

“We love living in a college town,” she said of her home in Somerville. “We think the best food and culture is in a college town.”

To prepare for the Northampton launch, the couple spent many weekends in Northampton. “We really hit the streets,” Bell said. “And there is even more places — it was hard to narrow.”

The content of the tours includes information about the food and drink and local history.

“I think first and foremost, people are interested in the food scene and the stories behind the food and why we picked the food,” Bell said. “We also try to give information and stories around incidents that impact and shape Northampton’s history.”

Guides talk about Pulaski Park, Sojourner Truth, Calvin Coolidge and Sylvester Graham, the namesake of the graham cracker and whose house is now Sylvester’s Restaurant.

“We like to think our guides have their own knowledge to add to the tour,” Bell said. “There’s no script or anything.”

All the guides are locals, and they’re looking for more. “If anyone local wants to be a guide, it’s a fun way to show off your home city,” Bell said.

Natalie Kulikowski — a lifelong Valley resident and current graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst — leads tours on Sunday afternoons.

“Between bites, I talk about everything from indigenous history to local landmarks like Pulaski Park and the Hotel Northampton, to the Valley’s agricultural heritage, to remarkable women who made the city home, to murals, bank robberies, and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” she wrote in an email to the Gazette.

Kulikowski has had tour participants come from anywhere from Albany to Boston.

“Sometimes folks are in the Valley for a weekend and want a quick overview of what area has to offer before they explore on their own,” Kulikowski wrote. “Sometimes they are locals seeking insider recommendations to freshen up their usual night-out routine.”

Mayor David Narkewicz is excited about the business.

“One of the things we’re always discussing about the city — there’s been a lot of discussions recently — is how do we maintain its vibrancy and continue to attract visors and be competitive,” Narkewicz said. “The idea that we’re incorporating this culinary tourism, I think it’s great. It ties in as well with the fact that we’re a community rich in history.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at

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