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Business Profile: Vallarta Eats Food Tours New Owner, Stephen Castrianni 

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Vallarta Eats Food Tours quietly got a new owner last year, after its founder, Eric Wichner, decided it was time to retire. 

But If you’d told Stephen Castrianni five years ago that he’d own a food tour company in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, he’d have told you that you had the wrong guy.

Life during the Covid pandemic changed for many, resulting in outcomes that many couldn’t have predicted, and Stephen says that’s what happened to him.

Stephen Castrianni, Vallarta Eats Food Tours owner.
Stephen Castrianni, Vallarta Eats Food Tours owner. Photo by Oscar Almeida.

Puerto Vallarta wasn’t even on his radar. But when Covid hit, and the company that he worked for decided to let its workers work remote, he searched for places that he thought he would enjoy spending a month. As a Philadelphia native, he looked south – first at New Orleans – but then a friend casually suggested that he look at Puerto Vallarta. He did, compared the cost of staying for a month to New Orleans, and figured, “how could I not.” 

It was that lone decision in 2021 that resulted in him taking a tour with Vallarta Eats Food Tours upon his arrival so that he could get familiar with the city and its food. 

Vallarta Eats is Puerto Vallarta’s first and longest running food tour service. From street-side carts to fine dining, it was started by Wichner 13 years ago because he saw a need – no one was doing food tours. And he thought, “what a wonderful way to showcase the city and introduce people to its food and culture.”

After Stephen’s food tour (and his month-long stay in Puerto Vallarta) he returned home to Philadelphia. But something about Puerto Vallarta had intrigued him.

“I had worked for the TV network QVC, and had traveled internationally a lot,” he said. “I considered myself a professional tourist. I traveled so much. But I never went somewhere that made me want to stay, I always enjoyed returning home to Philadelphia.” 

When the advertising agency he worked for decided to continue to let its workers work remote, he decided to move to Puerto Vallarta. So in 2021, he moved and he and Eric started talking about Stephen providing some consulting to the company on its digital marketing. 

“Then Eric decided he wanted to retire and approached me about purchasing the business,” he said. “Call it fate – the rest was a whirlwind of me getting my residency, my RFC, everything in order. I had about six months to do it before I took over the business.”

He took over in April 2023, and the past year has been a crash course on running a Mexican tour-based business.

Stephen Castrianni, Vallarta Eats Food Tours owner.
Stephen Castrianni, Vallarta Eats Food Tours owner. Photo by Oscar Almeida.

“I know how to promote to the American market,” he said with a smile. “I had that part of the business down. The rest, I’m still learning.”

Vallarta Eats Food Tours provides eight regular tours, and some specialty tours, across three different neighborhoods. They have more than 40 restaurants and food partners that they deal with, with some of those having been in business for more than 40 years and handed down through the family.

Stephen said he has 12 employees, four of those work in administration and the remaining eight are food tour guides. He said the money spent on the tours all stayed local – from the tour guides making their living to the restaurants serving the food.

“And many of the tour customers will revisit the restaurants or food stands again during their trip. That’s the value to the community,” he said. “And we have many people who will come back year after year and repeat tours. They just find it a great experience to enjoy the food and the culture.”

Food tours provided include the Signature Taco Tour; Tacos After Dark;  The Birria Experience; Explore Versalles; Versalles after Dark; Untouristed; Craft Brew & Bites and Tasting Vallarta. 

Stephen said future growth plans included expanding food tours into new cities in Mexico. And he particularly enjoyed the new dinner tours they are putting together. 

“The food scene here is amazing and constantly evolving,” he said. “It really shows the melting pot that Puerto Vallarta is with its people, its culture and its food. You know, people count the days down till their visit to Puerto Vallarta. Our food partners and our guides work hard to make sure their experience lives up to the anticipation.”

Stephen Castrianni, Vallarta Eats Food Tours owner.
Stephen Castrianni, Vallarta Eats Food Tours owner. Photo by Oscar Almeida.

But keeping growth in mind, Stephen said it was equally important to have a balanced approach for their food partners and other visitors.

“We are mindful of the impact that the tours have on the community and the restaurants,” he said. “We work hard to be respectful of the people and the culture.”

Stephen, who is 49, is the youngest of six children and has an Italian-American heritage. He’s the father of three children (all boys, ages 19, 26 and 32) and was married for 13-years. He came out late in life, and appreciates the opportunity to live in a community like Puerto Vallarta.

“People who come and visit often don’t realize that it hasn’t always been this gay mecca and we need to continue to promote ourselves as a LGBTQ destination and an integral part of the fabric of Vallarta,” he said. “Really the LGBTQ community here is, in ways, still in its infancy and it’s important to continue to build and nurture the community.”

Stephen Castrianni

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