Kansas Citians can travel the world without leaving the city’s Northeast, said Bobbi Baker, detailing plans for Friday’s Taste & Tour event that showcases flavors from across the globe.
“With this particular tour, you never have to leave [Independence] Avenue,” said Baker, president and CEO of the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
The Taste & Tour began more than a decade ago as a way to showcase the diversity of businesses — specifically in the food and drink industry — located in northeast Kansas City, she said.
“We started it to celebrate the foods in the northeast,” Baker said. “We started it so that we could bring people to the community who had never tasted some of the really special foods here from around the world. … We’ve got restaurants from six different continents, and each region of those continents has a different spin on their food.”
The June 2 event is expected to highlight food from central and South America, as well as Asia. A second Taste & Tour planned for Sept. 8, showcasing cuisine from South America and Africa.
Click here to purchase tickets for the June 2 Taste & Tour, which begins at 11:30 a.m. at the American Sons of Columbus building, where a “hop and shop” trolley will transport guests to each location along Independence Avenue.
In past years, all restaurants gathered at a centralized location, Baker said, adding that the pandemic forced the Chamber to reimagine — and ultimately improve — the event.
“We thought, ‘Why not load people into the trolley and take them to the restaurant to let them not only experience the food, but also to discover the people and explore the restaurants?’” Baker recalled.
“Very often, the restaurants have more than food,” she continued. “They have items from their culture, and they have stories that they’re much more apt to sit down and tell you in their restaurant, their safe place.”
Core Coffee & Eatery, located in the Pendleton Heights neighborhood within the Northeast, is among the first stops.
Deana Bellamaganya, who co-owns the coffee shop with her husband, Eric, said Core Coffee will be serving Vietnamese-style iced coffee.
Bellamaganya participated in Taste & Tour last year — she and Eric purchased the four-year-old coffee shop in March 2022 — and thinks the event provides an opportunity to build community and forge new relationships, she said.
“This tour gives you the flavors of different countries, but it also develops relationships, because we had people last year who had never even heard of us,” Bellamaganya said. “I think it’s a perfect opportunity to market your business and build those community relationships.”
Bellamaganya and her husband live just a few doors down the block from Core Coffee, she noted.
“We’re all about community, all about relationship building,” Bellamaganya said. “I think everything is about relationships. That’s why we have a sign outside the front of our shop that says, ‘Enter as strangers, leave as friends,’ because we always want everyone to feel welcomed here.”
As the tour moves east down Independence Avenue, visitors will stop at Frutopia, a Mexican ice cream and popsicle shop (or paleteria) and grill.
Frutopia opened in 2019 to fill a gap in the Northeast, said co-owner Sandy Knight, who noted that the community features a significant Latino population.
The paleteria serves more than 30 freshly-made flavors daily, including some unique ones like guava and cactus. Frutopia also offers catering services and popsicle carts, Knight said, and can create any flavor requests for catering customers.
Though Frutopia’s menu is Mexican-inspired, Knight said that the business loves welcoming customers from all different cultures and backgrounds.
“Almost everybody who visits becomes a regular, and we love that,” Knight said. “We love having all different cultures.”
A legacy for families
One of the final stops of Taste & Tour will be El Torito III, a Mexican grocer with a restaurant in the adjacent parking lot.
El Torito boasts two grocers and one restaurant, with plans to open another location, said Diana Gonzalez, assistant manager at El Torito III.
The business sells primarily foods from Hispanic cultures — including Central American food — and strives to be both affordable and inclusive, Gonzalez said. She said the Taste & Tour event provides the grocer with an opportunity to showcase that to the community.
“We carry primarily Hispanic food, but we have something for everyone,” Gonzalez said. “You don’t have to be of a certain demographic to shop here.”
That lesson of inclusivity among diversity is exactly why the NECC created Taste & Tour, Baker said.
“The event introduces you to people from another part of the world who now live with you in the Kansas City area,” Baker said. “It’s an opportunity to reach out, shake their hand, and break bread with them.”
Taste & Tour also shines a spotlight on the people of the Northeast community, who Gonzalez said are too often overlooked.
“We have a very friendly, welcoming community,” Gonzalez said. It’s not just crime, poverty, and drugs. There are a lot of wonderful people who don’t get the recognition they deserve.”
Bellamaganya, who’s lived in the Northeast for 22 years, echoed those sentiments.
“I think we’re all about family,” Bellamaganya said. “We love our community just as much as other neighborhoods love their own community.”
Baker highlighted that many businesses in the Northeast are family-owned and run by immigrants and/or refugees, and encouraged anyone to come visit them, whether at Taste & Tour or another time.
“I think our businesses are pretty special, because we have so many business owners who have come here as immigrants and refugees, and have created a business and started to live the American dream,” Baker said.
“They’re creating a legacy for their families who they brought here from a place of unrest,” Baker added. “They’re creating what they only dreamed about in their country. When they were living a nightmare, they were dreaming about these businesses that opened up on [Independence] Avenue and throughout the Northeast.”