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Meet Cristiano Bonino of Food.Stories.Travel. in Somerville

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cristiano Bonino.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Cristiano. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
It started on the side of a mountain, actually. I was born in Torino, in the northwestern corner of Italy (we’re famous for our big-bodied red wines and our truffles), and was working at the time as a personal financial planner, helping families to manage their savings.

While that was my work, all my life, my hobby and passion had been cycling. Well, the bicycle brought me up that mountain to a new career. I’d been out for a ride and was enjoying watching a Giro di Italia stage race near my hometown.

Also watching the race was a group of Americans on a bicycle tour. I met the guides and, long story short, started guiding for that American company in 2002. I met my wife at work and continued to guide, design and sell tours for them, eventually moving to Somerville in 2011.

In 2013, after 12 years of experience, I decided it was time to break out on my own. The result of that was Food.Stories.Travel, a small tour operator offering hand-crafted educational experiences to connect travelers to the unique faces and flavors of Italy. In the off season, FST also hosts cooking classes and private dinners in the Boston area so that people can explore Italy right in their own kitchens.

I’m happy to live in my adopted country and proud of my 100% Italian roots. Building bridges between the two countries, and sharing friends, foods, wines, and the quintessential Italian atmosphere is what really feeds me.

I know I am fortunate to be doing work that comes naturally. My mantra is: I care about what I eat, the way I travel, and the people I meet in my life!

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Building a business from scratch is exhilarating and rewarding. There’s nothing like making your own destiny. That said, it’s not without difficulty!

Those early days were tough. There were plenty of late nights developing the website from scratch, carefully designing and writing itineraries for tours that ultimately didn’t run, making connections, and putting all the pieces together. But anyone who’s hill-climbed on a bicycle knows that it will teach you endurance and fortitude. So I just put my head down and cranked.

It’s been five years now, and I can say that I’ve remained focused on delivering the highest possible quality of service for our guests— from the first conversation to get to know them and what they care about, all the way through to the tour itself and the final feedback at the end to help us improve our work.

The analogy I like to use is that of an artisanal cheesemaker (one in particular that I met in Sicily inspires me)—someone who makes the highest quality product, in a quantity that matches how much milk is coming out of the barn and how much time he has in a day. He can’t sell to everybody because he only has so much milk and only his two hands! Following the analogy, we’re not interested in scaling industrially, adding lots of people, and always looking to economize and be more efficient. Nothing against those business models, but it leads to a different sort of an experience. We feel better following the artisan approach, and are proud of the results.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Food.Stories.Travel. – what should we know?
Being an expat, I’m able to see and feel my native country in a way that probably only comes with distance. At the same time, I’m constantly surprised by how much North Americans go crazy for Italian culture. So many people I know have been to Italy many times already and are enthusiastically planning their next visits.

Food.Stories.Travel. offers the sort of tour that I would want to take if I were discovering Italy for the first (or second, or third) time. Maybe that sounds self-centered, but think about it: If you were going to be showing your best friend around—the best way to visit a place, in my opinion—what must-not-miss moments would you be sure to include?

The staple elements of any superlative food tour are exceptional guides, immersive visits with locals, unique recipes, traditions, histories (personal and collective), stunning landscapes and views, diverse art and architecture. Our Ingredients (http://foodstoriestravel.com/ingredients) lay out how we uniquely think about and craft each tour as a delicious dish.

But good ingredients are just the beginning. Then comes technique. Here, we believe in the simple but meaningful: conviviality around the table and the power of the stories we are able to share—stories that connect people across languages, cultures and contexts. Enduring travel memories are formed in the personal moments. Creating the conditions for our guests to find these kinds of moments is our whole reason for being. We want (and know how) to make the travel magic happen.

As mentioned before, when I’m not in Italy, I love to continue celebrating Italian culture through Boston area cooking classes and private dinners, working with my dear friend and professional chef Angelo Guida. It’s a different gig but has the same heartbeat: helping people discover what makes each region distinct and special. (Given the differences and the richness, Italy could easily be called the “United Regions of Italy”!)

Recipes thread through of both sides of the business as they encapsulate Food and Stories, and inspire people to Travel. We love collecting unique recipes (http://foodstoriestravel.com/recipes) because we believe that recipes are edible stories of a specific people in a specific time and place. Savoring both the dish itself and the history behind it makes the overall experience all the richer.

Along with recipes, I’m really proud of the Stories we collect. Everyone loves wonderful places and eating well, but at the end of the day what remains with us are the people. We love promoting incredible Italian food makers and farmers using the hashtag #HandsFacesItaly. If you use Instagram, come see some of the inspiring people we’ve met on our journeys.

Finally, through the business itself, we work hard to limit our impact and respect all of our stakeholders including customers, employees, suppliers, community and the environment. In September 2014, we became a certified B Corporation (https://www.bcorporation.net/community/foodstoriestravel), and we proudly donate more than 1% of our annual sales revenues to food literacy and environmental nonprofits such as 1% for the Planet (http://www.onepercentfortheplanet.org/who-we-are/business-directory/record/0010G00001xIBBCQA4) with aims to increase this amount in the years ahead.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
For sure our advisor (and my wife) Rachel Greenberger has been very influential in our 5+ years of business. She works at Babson College, having received her MBA from its graduate school. Her background as well as Babson’s unique entrepreneurial approach were major factors in helping me to get started.

I would like to say “grazie” to all of our guests, especially those who return to us to enjoy another adventure together and our private groups who give us the honor of organizing their special trips to Italy.

And last but not least, the Italians we’ve met on the road deserve credit. Our journeys would be meaningless without them. Their vibrancy and vitality make me proud to be Italian and are what make Italy worth visiting again and again!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
All photos are from Cristiano Bonino

Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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