Asked about an experience that epitomizes the website she works for, SideTour employee Joanna Ehrenreich mentions a dinner at a monastery with a banker turned monk. “He’s a fascinating guy,” she says. Then there was the former sous chef at Manhattan’s Aquavit who cooked a four-course meal in her Brooklyn home for SideTour customers—the group included a New York Times writer, who documented the evening for the paper. If those experiences sound appealing, good news: Next month, the New York-based startup will expand into Chicago and Washington, working with a network of “hosts”—people doing interesting stuff around the city—to offer special experiences: a course in primitive cooking techniques with a gastronomy historian, say, or a drawing lesson with an artist at a local landmark.
Like LivingSocial Gourmet and dining clubs such as the Coterie and Feastly (the latter organizes dinners in the homes of Washington chefs and notable amateur cooks), SideTour trades in “access-based experiences.” While food and drink makes up a sizeable chunk of its business, according to Ehrenreich, the company will partner with dancers, musicians, political experts—anyone they think customers will pay to spend some time with.CEO and cofounder Vipin Goyal says SideTour has already formed relationships with about 30 potential Washington hosts—the goal is to eventually have a roster of 500—and will soon be able to share details about a set of preview events that will take place from October 21 through 26. (The Washington site will launch fully in November.) He says the decision to move into Chicago and Washington came after the company put out feelers in a number of cities, and found these two urban areas had the best customer bases and host opportunities to support it. Eventually, however, Goyal sees scaled-down versions in less populated places too. “SideTour can exist in every city in the world,” he says.