When the duo of Jan and Zuzi started Taste of Prague in 2011, neither of them had been on a food tour, and they didn’t know how to make a website (she was a lawyer, and he was a translator, after all). But this local couple did have two ingredients that were far more important: vision and passion.
“We wanted to provide a different experience than just sightseeing,” Jan explains, “and to let people experience tourism differently than they did twenty years ago.”
The walking side of the tour should be familiar to most Prague visitors. Cobblestoned streets from Old Town to the Prague Castle have worn out millions of soles (and likely a few weary souls) since the borders opened in 1989. But visiting historic monuments only scratch the surface of Czech culture – there’s also Czech’s culinary culture as well.
Taste of Prague started with a little wit, a lot of hard work, and a simple concept. Jan and Zuzi envisioned creating a stronger relationship between locals and tourists by bringing an authentic Czech dining experience to small groups of visitors.
Under Taste of Prague’s guidance, groups of no more than ten people visit six different restaurants over a period of four hours. Guests sit down at each stop with their Taste of Prague guides and listen to personal stories about Prague’s food and history (and of course eat and drink as well).
“We like to keep the tour groups small because it’s more authentic this way,” Jan says. “This way we don’t take over the places we’re visiting.” Jan feels it’s imperative the group doesn’t disturb the culture of the restaurant the tour is visiting.
Although Prague and great food are not (yet) synonymous in tourism circles, Jan and Zuzi have proof that this is due to a lack of knowledge, not an empty culinary landscape. “The places we choose for the tours have to be the very best,” Jan says. “They have to both tell a story and be meaningful.”
The second piece of their perfect food tour is to create memorable friendships. “I think a strong part of what we do is never underestimate the guest’s intelligence.” Some sightseeing tours might talk down to tourists, but Jan and Zuzi are equal opportunity eaters. “We don’t judge, and I won’t teach you how to eat your meal,” Jan promises. “If you don’t want the knife, don’t use the knife. It’s all spontaneous, come as you are, it’s all good.” Even with their huge following, Jan and Zuzi still keep up with old guests by taking the time to reply to emails for hours everyday
Being active members in the Prague community helps to hold them accountable to the third element of their tours, honesty. “We have a big following among the locals so we can’t just make stuff up,” Jan said. “They’d have it out for us.” And though the founders are incredibly knowledgeable, they’re anything but food snobs. Jan even admitted that he has a total weakness for fried cheese. That’s honesty we can all get behind.
Since 2011, Taste of Prague has given their personal tours to over 24,000 people, and they show no sign of slowing down any time soon. In fact, they’ve recently brought on additional staff so they can offer more frequent tours. Of course, leaving a guest in new hands can be difficult when you have such as specific brand and vibe. So how did they choose their additions to their tight-knit family? Carefully, Jan says.
“Our key criteria was whether we would like to spend four hours with the applicants. We only asked two questions. The first was to describe their last great food experience. If they can’t remember, they aren’t passionate enough about food. The other question is about their guilty pleasure. Their answer shows how open they are to other people.”
Opening up the team was a particularly personal decision, because the food tour’s founding pair are also a couple in real life. Jan (then a professional translator) and Zuzi (then a lawyer) started dating in 2010 after meeting online, “That’s how busy people meet,” Jan jokes. So Taste of Prague isn’t just a job for them; it’s become a family business.
In addition to the tours, Taste of Prague has built a bit of a mini multi-media empire. Their blog is incredibly popular among locals and visitors alike, offering tips on their favorite places to get cocktails, ice cream, coffee, and more. Then of course there’s their popular Instagram and Facebook pages.
Their expertise also extends from the online to the analog world, with roughly twenty-five places in town selling their Prague foodie map, a curated printed guide to the best places to eat. The establishments gracing these coveted pages are selected just as carefully as the restaurants on the tour. In fact, Jan and Zuzi frequently turn businesses away unless they truly believe there’s something special about them.
Taste of Prague offers tour goers a win-win scenario. Tourists leave with their minds and bodies full of memorable stories and delicious food, while Jan and Zuzi leave every tour feeling like they’ve made a difference in Prague’s tour scene.
So is this tour right for you and your crew? Jan has one simple question that drives the answer home. “You didn’t come to Prague to lose weight, did you?”
Story by Adrian McLaughlin