“We get to guide people into the incredible experience that is Santa Barbara,” says Evan Elizabeth Berger, the effervescent founder of Taste Santa Barbara Food Tours. “I did this so we could walk and discover Santa Barbara, all of its food and its local vendors. Santa Barbara is such a walkable city!” This experience shouldn’t just be for tourists either — if you love to eat while having a good time and learning interesting facts about our downtown, Evan’s tours are perfect for you.
Evan started her business five years ago this month. She was inspired by a cousin who’d started a food tour on Catalina Island, and urged by her mom to start one here. “You love Santa Barbara,” said her mom. “You love food, you love people, and you love feeding people.”
For the first year-and-a-half, Even did all of the tours by herself. Today, she employs four guides and is training a fifth to run the tour, which lasts about three-and-a-half hours and includes anywhere from two to 12 people. “They’re a gateway to getting to know the city,” Evan exclaims. “Plus, you have to eat!”
The tours all start with two macaroons from Renaud’s in the Arlington Plaza. “I love dessert, and they’re gluten-free,” explains Evan, who’s read studies that show starting with sugar aids digestion. The next stop is a family-style meal at Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar in the Santa Barbara Public Market followed by an informative visit to the County Courthouse.
Then it’s off to Los Arroyos, where everyone gets a taco, and a tasting of four wines at Grassini Family Vineyards in El Paseo, paired with two chocolate truffles. Next are slices at Persona Pizza with a half-glass of beer, and then more wine tasting at either Cebada Wines or Happy Canyon Vineyards. Lastly, everyone gets salted caramels from Jessica Foster Confections.
“You can gauge how much you want to eat and drink,” Evan explains. “But you’re definitely full.”
Evan was born in Santa Monica. When she was 10, her mom moved to Santa Barbara, but Evan stayed with her dad in Pacific Palisades. Upon graduating from Windward School in 1998, her dad encouraged her to go to college somewhere beyond Southern California. She chose Emerson College, and studied marketing and psychology.
After graduation, Evan moved to Austin, working in IT project management for Sub Microsystems, where she survived six rounds of layoffs. Her mom asked Evan to move back to California, so in 2010, Evan started grooming pets at Loose Pooch, then worked retail at A Tropical Affair, and eventually she started working on hotel app development for the company E-Marketing 360.
In person, Evan is an irresistible breath of fresh air, with a witty sense of self-deprecating humor. “I met my husband, Russ Berger, on Match.com,” she volunteers. “He asked me to give the bold man a chance.” While having a dinner at bouchon, she knew they were meant for each other when he told her, “You’re busy and a little weird, but I like you.”
They now live with their daughter, Penelope, on the Mesa. “When I started doing the tours full-time, I was six or seven months pregnant,” she says. “I wasn’t that big. People kept looking at my stomach.”
I ask her what should one expect of a Taste Santa Barbara Food tour. “Expect anything,” she answers. “I try to convince guests to do lunges and squats. So far nobody has taken me up on it.”
Evan Elizabeth Berger answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your current state of mind? I am somewhere between mom-brain and mom-boss. Perfectly tired, mostly happy, and trying to just keep all of the plates spinning and not pull my hair out or have my hair pulled out.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “All of the things. At least 50 times a day, I can be heard saying “Let’s go do all of the things.” “Let’s eat all of the things.”
What do you like most about your job? Oh man, there are so many things that I love about my job, where do I even begin? I love food, Santa Barbara, and people. I am so grateful for my amazing guides; working with them is such fun. I absolutely love supporting local businesses and feeding people some of my favorite foods.
I also am extremely grateful that I have had the opportunity and privilege to start and run a business that allows me and my wonderful guides to combine all of those things together and to get to introduce both Santa Barbarans and visitors to some of my local favorite places and foods.
What is your motto? Live, love, local.
What is your idea of perfect happiness? I haven’t figured this one out yet. I am pretty happy and I am sure I could add and remove things that would make it even more perfect, but I think perfect happiness also depends on my mood.
What is your greatest fear? Puking. It’s called emetophobia — it is an actual and bizarre and absolutely annoying fear.
Who do you most admire? I’d have to say that I admire my 96-year-old grandfather. He has been successful in his life and happy. He always has words of encouragement and is positive and also has the most contagious laugh, the kind of laugh where he almost sounds like he is choking, because he is laughing so hard.
What is your greatest extravagance? I do pilates and Bond Fitness. I am not great at going to the gym and these two programs have been wonderful for both my mind and my body. The classes get me out of bed, usually so early that I don’t have time to think and by the time I am done, I have the full day ahead of me and I am so ready for it and feel awesome.
What is the quality you most like in people? I love people who are happy and confident and people who laugh big. You know the kind of person who laughs loud and isn’t embarrassed by it? They make you want to laugh too.
What is the quality you most dislike in people? Mean people. I don’t like when people are mean just to be mean.
What do you most value in friends? Being able to be us. My closest friends, we are able to be who we are, good and bad.
What is your most marked characteristic? I asked a few friends about this one and they came back with: Energetic, social, welcoming, outgoing, enthusiastic, and creative. With awesome adjectives like that, how can I choose just one?
Which talent would you most like to have? My husband and mother-in-law are the types of people who, when I tell them I want to make something, like a chicken costume for Halloween, they figure out how to do it and do it. Sure, I could do it, but I’d squirrel a lot before I get it done. They just sit down, figure it out, and then it’s done.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? The emetophobia thing.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Running my business while helping raise my daughter with my husband.
Where would you most like to live? I love Santa Barbara and honestly, don’t want to move. My husband however would love to have acreage, so I think our perfect place would be Hope Ranch.
What is your most treasured possession? I have been thinking about this one a lot and can’t think of anything. I like all the things and it depends on the day of the week, but I don’t really have a most treasured possession at the moment. My most treasured things in life right now are my kid, husband, and dogs.
What makes you laugh the most? I am a huge fan of really dumb and crass humor.
On what occasion do you lie? I try not to lie, but I am sure there are some occasions where it may hurt someone less rather than more.