Elizabeth Hindley of East Patchogue always knew she wanted to do something in business that involved food.
But working full-time in public education made opening a restaurant next to impossible. And weekend catering wasn’t appealing to her.
It wasn’t until a chance meeting with a man who happened to be a business consultant that something clicked within her; the guy unlocked something.“He asked, what can you do with that passion for restaurants and food?” recalled Hindley, who was also mourning the loss of her mother at the time. “He really put me on the spot. He wouldn’t get off the subject.”
“It was like forcing a lightbulb to go off,” added her husband, Kevin, in an interview with GreaterPatchogue last week at Locale Gasto Pub & Pizzette in Patchogue.
In searching for answers, Hindley immediately thought of the booming food town right next door to her.
The idea for a first-of-its-kind food mystery tour was starting to take shape.
That was around October of 2016.
Today, Elizabeth and her husband are sending hundreds of people into local restaurants each week through their company Food Done It?.
The participants’ mission is to solve a crime. And they eat, drink and laugh plenty while doing it.
Food Done It? debuted in early September 2017, and this past January the company launched a second mystery challenge for foodies.
The first tour they created involves deciphering a series of clues and answering trivia to figure out who stole an engagement ring.
As they progress through the game, they travel to restaurants and other shops.
That tour is called The Cupcake Conundrum.
The latest tour, a murder mystery called Fire and Ice, involves a character who’s a chili-eating champ. He winds up dead.
More on that from FoodDoneIt.com:
Just hours after winning yet ANOTHER hot-pepper-eating contest, local hero Clayton Capsaicin was found DEAD. The body was smoking-hot on the inside, and frozen SOLID in ice!
Thus far, Elizabeth has come up with the plots while Kevin works on the dialogue, and they hammer out the finished storylines together.
They were also able to recruit a top artist who works for Dreamworks to design the characters.
“He gave us this incredible deal because he likes the idea so much,” Kevin said.
Investigators get to know the characters through the clues, as well as through the illustrations on the website, which helps guide investigators through the tours.
Players always start at a restaurant — for instance, the Cupcake Conundrum starts at Locale — and proceed to a non-restaurant “headquarters” to pick up kits and they’re on their way.
At the end of the night, their bellies are full.
“We have to emphasize that people pace themselves; it’s a lot of food,” Elizabeth says.
In exchange for the traffic and exposure, the restaurants offer special menus at special pricing.
“We love Food Done It?” said Francesco Castelli of Locale without hesitation.
“We’re a newer restaurant in town, so that extra exposure we get from each tour has been beneficial,” he said. “It’s been fun watching the growth of the tours. In the beginning we may have had a couple of tours per week. Recently it has grown to multiple tours per day. That has translated into new business for us.”
Castelli said he wasn’t the least bit surprised Food Done It? caught on like it has.
That opinion stems mostly from getting to know Elizabeth and Kevin — whose educational background is in musical composition, which Kevin says translates into storytelling.
“They’re so passionate about their tours and come up with some really creative themes,” Castelli said. “We’re really proud to be a part of it.”
TO GREAT IDEAS
So back to how Elizabeth came up with this whole idea.
She knew that running a history-driven food tour in Patchogue would be difficult. The village is nothing like New York City, whose taverns and restaurants might date to the 19th and even 18th centuries.
Patchogue’s food history lies mostly in diners and luncheonettes from not too long ago.
She also considered a foodie scavenger hunt. As part of her research, she left New York State to try one. “I hated it,” she said.
She had been noticing escape rooms were becoming popular. (That’s where a group of people work together to solve clues to break out of a room.)
But she didn’t have her ah-ha! moment until a Tuesday night bocce tournament at 89 North Music Venue in Patchogue.
“All these people were looking to do something while out eating and drinking,” she said.
It’s the same idea for trivia nights at the bars.
“So I started to piece together an idea to combine a trivia night and escape room with a food tour that could propel people from restaurant to another,” she explained.
Kevin jumped right on board.
In November, he was able to quit his day job selling solar panels and now runs Food Done It? tours full time.
He also built the website — with Elizabeth’s constant input.
“It’s really difficult as a first-time website builder to take that much constructive criticism from your wife,” he laughed. “But she made the website so much better by giving me really good, consistent feedback on how it should look and feel.”
It was also huge moment when the restaurants started seeking them out for participation — instead of them having to pitch their idea to the restaurants.
The growing list of would-be participants includes restaurants in Huntington Village, where investigators from Food Done It? will be welcomed with open arms starting in May.
There are also plans to expand into other downtowns in Suffolk.
The Hindleys say they derive a lot of joy from watching people have fun — as well as helping the restaurants.
Elizabeth recalls being at Locale on New Year’s Eve and meeting a group of people who said they traveled from Rockville Centre after previously going on a Food Done It? tour.
“They said, ‘We didn’t know Patchogue was like this,” she said. “And that just makes us happy, to know our partners will be making money long after a tour.”
One thing they emphasize for nervous first-timers is the puzzles and questions that propel the Food Done It? narratives aren’t exactly brain-busters.
“This is easy,” she said. “If you take it step by step, you’ll know what to do. This is tiny, bite-sized pieces of fun.
“Food and frustration don’t mix.”