Michelle Bergey travels for food. And she always seeks the help of in-the-know locals. “Food tours are the best way to travel,” she says. “Honestly, every time I travel, I do a food tour.” So it’s natural that she co-owns a food tour business called Lost Plate with her brother and sister-in-law. Brian Bergey and Ruixi Hu run the tours in China, where they live, and in Cambodia. Michelle leads the Portland tours.
Many people ask Bergey why visitors need a guide to check out restaurants. She tells them a tour goes beyond the food itself. “You’re also getting information about the city, about the restaurants and owners,” she says. “You’re even meeting some of the owners.”
Lost Plate opened for business in 2018. By 2019 Bergey offered three different Portland tours. Due to COVID, Lost Plate is currently offering only one Portland tour — Food Carts, Pods and Patios — which Bergey leads herself. The 2.5-hour tour visits six food carts in Cartopia and Hawthorne Asylum, a stall in the Morrison Market Food Hall, and ends at a local brewery. The cost is $69 per person and includes about a mile of walking.
To find good restaurant partners for her tours, Bergey does “a lot of research and a lot of eating!” she says. All businesses must be locally owned. “The best places not only have delicious food but have a story and connection to the city of Portland and the community here.”
The pandemic brought lots of changes to Lost Plate, such as ubiquitous hand sanitizer and a move away from family-style eating to individual portions. Bergey added a health and safety page to Lost Plate’s website. And the clientele changed.
“It was a good mix of international and domestic in 2018 and 2019,” Bergey says. “Last year it was all domestic, primarily on road trips from the West Coast. And then this year we’re kind of back to it being domestic, spread out all over.” But they all have something in common: “Food tours are really for foodies and people who travel for food. I mean, just on my tour today, I always ask: ‘Why Portland? Why are you visiting here?’ And one guy flat-out said, ‘Because food. I want to eat.’”
Despite the woes of 2020 and 2021, Bergey is optimistic about food travel. She’s booked herself a vacation to foodie destination Italy later this year. And she’s excited about guiding as many visitors as possible through Portland’s culinary wonders while creating mutually beneficial relationships with restaurants. “We bring them new customers and they provide an experience to our customers,” Bergey says. “I believe the best things about Portland are the people, the community, and the food and drink. So that’s what we try to show off on every tour.”