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Dishcrawl comes to Greenfield

  • Photo by Jacki Jacobs of a dishcrawl recently gathering outside a Northampton Irish pub.

    Photo by Jacki Jacobs of a dishcrawl recently gathering outside a Northampton Irish pub.

  • Photo by Jacki Jacobs of a dishcrawl recently gathering outside a Northampton Irish pub.

Food lovers in Franklin County will soon be offered a new way to get to know local eateries. Dishcrawl, a service that now highlights restaurants in 46 states, started a Pioneer Valley branch in May. Greenfield will host the fourth on the evening of Aug. 28. The first three crawls took place in Northampton and Easthampton.

Modeled on the idea of a pub crawl, the Dishcrawl takes participants on a walking tour of four area restaurants in the course of about three hours. Each establishment serves a sampling plate of three items. The first Dishcrawls took place in California in 2010, but the concept is rapidly expanding.

Local Dishcrawl “ambassador” Jennifer Iannaconi lives in Springfield but once worked in Greenfield. An artist and a marketing consultant to other artists, she has always felt passionate about eating, although her husband prepares the meals in their household.

“I don’t cook. I make reservations,” she said in an interview last week.

Early this year she spotted a listing on a job search engine. The job was tailored to someone who had marketing experience and loved food. “I said, ‘Count me in. What do we do?’” she recalled. She was trained via email, telephone, and Skype.

Iannaconi noted that she has had a lot of fun reintroducing herself to Greenfield’s dining scene and looking for the ideal combination of restaurants and foods to nourish and entertain Dishcrawl participants.

Crawlers will not know where the tour will begin until 48 hours before it starts. To make the evening more exciting, Iannaconi won’t tell them which restaurants they will visit until just before they arrive at each one.

Iannaconi explained that she has used a couple of criteria in selecting restaurants. The eateries have to be large enough to seat quite a few people. The average Dishcrawl so far has fed about 30 people; the maximum number for this event is 45. If a space is small, Iannaconi may split her groups up in two and have them alternate in different spaces.

Her main focus is to mix up the types of food her crawlers eat.

“I want variety,” she said. “I don’t want people to guess what’s coming next.”

Asked what sort of people have signed up for the previous Dishcrawls, Iannaconi thought for a moment. “People similar to me,” she decided. “Late 30s, 40s. People who don’t necessarily have to worry about a babysitter on a Wednesday night. People who like to watch the Cooking Channel and the Food Network a lot.”

Teenagers are welcome. Iannaconi discourages participants from bringing small children, however, reasoning that little ones could find the eating tour confusing and exhausting on a weeknight.

The evening costs $45 per person (excluding drinks), although Iannaconi sometimes offers discounts via the Dishcrawl Pioneer Valley Facebook page to help make her Dishcrawls more affordable. Part of the fee goes to the four participating restaurants. Part is devoted to marketing and to paying a photographer to document the evening. The remainder is split between Iannaconi and Dishcrawl headquarters in California.

Iannaconi believes that the fluidity of the event helps participants make new friends, she said.

“I notice that when people first sit down to eat they sit with people they know. But as we’re walking around town and as they get drinks, they get to know people.”

It has helped her make friends as well. “I am having so much fun,” she said. “I love talking to new people.

“A friend I hadn’t seen in quite a while came out to a recent Dishcrawl. She said, ‘I think you have found a new career.’ I really want to keep this going.”

Iannaconi plans to host approximately one Dishcrawl per month in Franklin, Hampshire or Hampden County. She is already working on a larger masquerade-themed Dishcrawl around Halloween, and she hopes to expand the program to host charity affairs as it becomes more established.

Meanwhile, she finds the work “exciting but exhausting”; she needs to recover a bit after each Dishcrawl. “I don’t drink, but I have a hangover the next day,” she said laughing. “It’s me and the dog and a cup of coffee, and I don’t stray far from the computer.”

Reservations for the Greenfield Dishcrawl will be accepted until noon Aug. 28, although Iannaconi notes that it may be hard to accommodate people with food allergies and special needs that late. She urges them to contact her as soon as possible.

To get more information or reserve a spot, visit the Dishcrawl website, http://dishcrawl.com/pioneervalley/.

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