When Stefan Woehlke and his wife started Fork Tours in Washington in 2015, it was with the intention of giving visitors a literal taste of local history.
“From the beginning, our tours were focused on making sure we were telling a diverse and integrated story of American history using food,” said Woehlke, who has a degree in anthropology. “A story that acknowledges the contribution of people of all different backgrounds. And that’s been a critical component of everything we’ve done.”
There is no shortage of such stories to tell in D.C., and Fork Tours has several offerings that focus on Black culture, including the U Street Food tour and the private African American Foodways tour.
The U Street tour explores the neighborhood know as Black Broadway, showcasing some well-known Black-owned venues, like the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl and the Florida Avenue Grill, which has been around since 1944.
The Grill is the longest continually operating Black-owned restaurant in the U.S. and is featured in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Guests on the U Street tour visit but don’t eat at the Grill, as that would require more time than is available on a tour that also makes stops at neighborhood gems like the Dukem Ethiopian restaurant and Oohhs & Aahhs, a soul food eatery.
During the pandemic, Fork Tours has had to adapt its tours to offer outdoor options. For example, its Ethiopian stop is now an East African street food tasting from the Habesha Market.
The African American Foodways tour focuses on the history of soul food and its West African influences and features both West African restaurants and a meal at the Florida Avenue Grill.
If Woehlke’s deep knowledge of the people and traditions that shaped D.C. neighborhoods is any indication of what participants will learn on a Fork Tour, they will get more than just a taste of the city. He can wax lyrical about why Washington has the largest population of Ethiopians outside of Ethiopia itself; which civil rights leaders gathered at Ben’s Chili Bowl in the 1960s; and the transatlantic influence that makes Chesapeake soul food different from its counterparts in Alabama, Louisiana and low country South Carolina.
D.C.’s history is also tinged with stories of tragedy, like the burning of Black Broadway during unrest following the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
“In 10 days, one of the wealthiest and most vibrant black communities in the country was essentially reduced to rubble,” Woehlke said.
Fork Tours donates proceeds from all of its tours to local charities.
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