Who doesn’t dream of dropping everything, moving to Paris, and living off wine and cheese? Well, Atlanta might not be Paris, but Cristy Lenz has come fairly close to living that dream.
Before she started Food Tours Atlanta in 2015, Lenz worked as a journalist for 20 years at Fox News and CNN. Glued to her phone and working 24/7, by the time she took an impromptu birthday trip to Paris one year, she was feeling the effects of burnout.
“I just didn’t ever think I would do anything else,” Lenz said. “I think as a journalist, you just don’t even know what else you would do, right?”
On that trip to Paris, Lenz ended up taking a food tour. When the leader of the tour began telling the group how she quit her corporate job and moved to the city of love to start this business, Lenz had a bit of an epiphany.
“It was one of those moments where you’re like, wait a second – are you talking to me? Are you telling me to move to Paris and start a food tour? Because that’s what I’m hearing,” she said. “I’m thinking, yes! Let’s do this.”
But once Lenz landed back in Atlanta, the magic quickly wore off. For one, she didn’t know anything about Paris, or Parisian restaurants. She didn’t even speak French. Living out her French fairytale now seemed like a pipe dream. She briefly considered starting a food tour in her own neighborhood of Inman Park, but the demands of her job were just too great. Then a few months later, she got laid off.
“I was like, I see you universe,” she said.
Lenz always loved food. Her first job was swirling yogurt, and she waited tables throughout college and into her adult life. She grew up in St. Simons, Ga., with a Puerto Rican mother and a Southern father. Her daily meals consisted of what she calls a “Puerto Rican meat and three” – something like fried chicken with a side of rice and beans.
But her love for different types of food didn’t really explode until she moved to Washington D.C. for college.
“It kind of blew my culinary palate open,” she said. “I had never had Korean barbecue before, and I’d never had Indian food before, you know?”
Her culinary tastes continued to expand with stints living in places like New York City and Tampa, Fla. before moving to Midtown in 2000. After a brief stint in Miami’s South Beach neighborhood, she came back to Atlanta and settled in Inman Park in 2009.
Over that time, her love of food has only grown. No matter the location, no matter the cost, Lenz is willing to try anything.
“People say they shop outside their means, or they buy a house outside their means,” Lenz said. “I always joke that I eat outside my means. There’s no restaurant too expensive for me. I’ll just eat there anyway.”
With Food Tours Atlanta, Lenz has three unique food tours to choose from, including a new craft cocktail tour along the Atlanta BeltLine that ends on the rooftop at the Hotel Clermont. When she’s coming up with a new tour, Lenz said she tries to find restaurants that speak to the local community.
Lenz said she makes it a point to work with locally owned and operated restaurants as often as she can. Her Inman Park tour includes stops at Sarah O’Brien’s Little Tart Bakeshop in Krog Street Market and Inman Park’s neighborhood haunt The Albert.
“It’s really important for me to support local restaurants,” Lenz said. “Restaurants are a really hard business, and I think local restaurants especially are so reflective of the communities they serve.”
O’Brien is one of a few James Beard Award nominated or winning chefs you can find on one of Lenz’s tours. The Ponce City Market tour includes a stop at Chef Linton Hopkins’ famous H&F Burger, Chef Hector Santiago’s El Super Pan, and Chef Meherwan Irani’s Botiwalla.
“H&F burger and El Super Pan have been on my food tour at Ponce City Market since I started it, and Botiwalla has been on my food tour since I started it,” Lenz said. “They’ve been really supportive. It’s been really great to have such great restaurant partners.”