The Neenah-Menasha Emergency Society’s Kitchen Tour has returned to the Fox Valley after its 2020 hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but avid tourers might have noticed this year’s event looks quite a bit different in 2021.
That’s because, to make social distancing possible, the Emergency Society reimagined the tour as “Kitchen Tour 2021: Restaurant Style.” Prior to this 12th annual event, community members would purchase tickets and tour five different homes in the Fox Valley, and their kitchens.
“But it brought in a lot of people,” says Kitchen Tour co-chair Tina Schroeder. “So we just knew we couldn’t do it again this year.”
That’s when the Emergency Society had the idea to turn tours of kitchens into tours of restaurants. They worked with restaurants like Emprize Brew Mill, Xe54, Barrel 41 and Zuppas to host a private, distanced meal for ticket buyers.
Schroeder says safety was a priority in determining which restaurants would be ideal for this year’s Kitchen Tour. The Emergency Society sought out restaurants that could accommodate a contact-minimal dining experience.
“A restaurant may have been considered open, but they were going to be in a separate dining room,” Schroeder says. “We worked with them like, ‘Could there be options where they might have their own entrance?’ and things like that.”
The Emergency Society is midway through the event, having hosted restaurant-style tours since February 2. While Schroeder says they definitely hope to return to the original concept next year, it’s been a fun, safer way of reinventing the Kitchen Tour experience, and so far the response has been positive.
“The feedback we’ve had, from those who have attended so far is they’ve absolutely loved it,” Schroeder says. “Everybody really appreciates and enjoys doing this, and they understand the situation.”
Like with other years, the Kitchen Tour: Restaurant Style is for a good cause. Tickets sold during the tour will go toward emergency financial assistance for community members in need, which can include help with rent, utilities or other basic needs.
“Funding also supports our big back to school fair where we give about 1,000 students backpacks, school supplies and a gift card for shoes, so they can start the school year off on a good start,” Schroeder says.