“Living locally is not a trend. It’s a lifestyle.” That’s the mentality that drove Cristina McCarter and Lisa Brown to launch a locally inspired and locally sourced business in the midst of the pandemic. Cristina, of Memphis’ own City Tasting Tours, is a longtime food entrepreneur, and she joined forces with Lisa, a friend who also happened to be a marketing expert with years of building successful food and beverage brands.
Together, the two created City Tasting Box, and they’re bringing Memphis’ tastiest packaged goods, most intriguing new artisanal foods, and classic flavors from beloved Memphis restaurants to a curated, beautifully designed, and delicious box — that, yes, can be shipped nationwide.
But don’t think these two are stopping at Memphis. They’ve got big dreams to take this tasty startup nationwide.
You launched during the pandemic. Was this something that was already in the works or were you inspired by bringing amazing small businesses directly into people’s homes?
Cristina: The pandemic upset the travel and restaurant industries and challenged us all to redefine hospitality and innovate new experiences for customers. City Tasting Box was an idea I had in mind for City Tasting Tours back in 2019. The pandemic pushed the vision forward. I have always been inspired by Memphis’s food industry and connecting customers to our local food scene.
How did City Tasting Box start? Were you two already friends, throwing around ideas?
Lisa: Cristina and I are friends turned business partners. We met in 2019, with similar interests in business and lifestyle, and we became fast friends. I remember calling Cristina in June 2020 just to check on my friend. I knew her world had been interrupted, and I wanted to make sure she was okay. That phone call turned into a seven-hour business conversation, and City Tasting Box was born.
Cristina: We discussed the local impact City Tasting Box could have and how we could further propel our mission: “Eat Local. Be Kind.” COVID-19 has created a long-term impact on restaurants; simply put, food artisans need another outlet, another revenue stream. Our business model and e-commerce platform is a great solution — allowing all packaged food artisans to move beyond their city’s restrictions to consumers across the nation.
What were your backgrounds before launching City Tasting Box?
Cristina: I am no stranger to the “grit and grind” of entrepreneurship. I started City Tasting Tours, a food tasting tour company, in 2016. As a serial ‘Foodpreneur,’ I have since started Feast and Graze, a charcuterie delivery service, as well as food events such as Craft Food and Wine Festival. My love of connecting people and communities through food continues to grow, while my events continue to gain notoriety.
Lisa: I am all things marketing and strategy. From developing content strategy to managing photoshoots, I’ve spent several years in Corporate America helping food and beverage businesses connect to their customers, nail their messaging strategy, and scale to win. Entrepreneurship is a new journey for me! I’m excited because I now have the opportunity to take everything I’ve learned, incorporate my own creativity, and build a business that’s focused on more than just the bottom line.
How do you source the brands that you feature?
Lisa: We carefully consider each product and artisan for each of our boxes — most of whom Cristina already had a relationship with from her company, City Tasting Tours. Our first goal with all of our boxes is to create the optimal palatable experience by blending the perfect flavor balance of sweet, savory, salty, and spicy in each box while keeping our north star in mind: Highlight Memphis and tell the artisan’s story.
Has there been a runaway success with a brand that you’ve featured?
Cristina: We have garnered national attention with The Majority Box, a curated collection of all black food artisans in Memphis, TN. We partnered with We Are Memphis to deliver this box to the marketplace, and it was an instant success. The Majority Box has given our food artisans a chance to be featured alongside us in major publications including Forbes, Black Enterprise, Bossip, and Thrillist.
Right now, you’re focused on Memphis. Is there a next city that’s on your radar?
Cristina: Of course! In fact, we are just getting started. City Tasting Box will continue to deliver thoughtfully crafted boxes to the marketplace. We are planning to expand to other cities in 2022 by curating more city-themed boxes and with our subscription boxes. We are very excited to see this come to life.
What do you wish more people understood about buying locally made food?
Lisa: Living locally is not a trend. It’s a lifestyle. Understanding our economic buying power is a lesson that most of us are still learning. With our purchasing decisions, we choose to keep a small restaurant owner in business; we tell a small-batch food artisan that we see you and support you. Our buying power is how we invest in our local economy. And we simply want to give everyone the opportunity to invest in the Memphis food scene and our collective stories.
What’s the best meal you’ve had in Memphis this year?
Cristina: The entire dining experience at Dory has been hard to beat. This restaurant has given us something most foodies search out in other cities right here in our own town.
Lisa: During Memphis Dining Week, [Private] Chef Phillip Dewayne created a couple of dishes I can’t stop thinking about. His Salmon Miso and Lobster Ramen dishes are nothing short of culinary magic.
What are you reading right now?
Cristina: My child’s reading books, for proofreading purposes. *chuckles*
Lisa: I’m more so listening to Brene Brown. She has a wealth of knowledge on grace, boundaries, and setting realistic expectations. She’s helping professionals create a more holistic approach to life.
Who do you consider the most exciting Southern entrepreneurs right now?
Cristina: Chef Tam is one of the most exciting foodpreneurs to watch right now! She has really taken lemons and made lemonade with a new product line and continuous nationwide exposure.
Lisa: Cxffeeblack! Maurice and Renata Henderson, one of my favorite husband-wife duos, have taken their social and educational movement and turned it into a well-respected business. Forever delivering dope content and superior products to the marketplace. Cxffeeblack is some of the best coffee you will ever experience — because it’s more than just a drink.
What advice do you have for women who are taking a leap into launching their own business, particularly one where there may not be a clear blueprint? Do you have particular advice for women in the food world?
Cristina: Keep exploring the food world! There are many avenues that are just now being discovered and that’s exciting! I also have to advise grace and patience because if you are the first one to do something there’s no one to lean on but yourself. So if it isn’t perfect, that’s fine. It will still be great to know that you tried.
Beyond faith, family, or friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Both Cristina and Lisa: Good food, good music, and good laughs.
To learn more about City Tasting Box, visit citytastingbox.com. All photography courtesy of City Tasting Box unless otherwise noted.
Visit our FACES archives to meet more inspiring Memphis women.