ArtBites Successfully Blends Museum Tours with Cooking Classes

Strategy: Enhance Your Product, Focus on Customer Potential, Know Your Customer/Product, Serve Local Community

Type of attraction: Arts Organization

Summary: In retrospect, 2007 was a tough year to launch a new business. However, despite the economic downturn that began the following year, Maite Gomez-Rejón managed to successfully launch her own company, ArtBites.

In retrospect, 2007 was a tough year to launch a new business.  However, despite the economic downturn that began the following year, Maite Gomez-Rejón managed to successfully launch her own company, ArtBites, which combines her love of art and food.  ArtBites offers museum classes that “trace the history of food as seen through the museum’s collection, topped off with a cooking component” (artbites.net).

Building on her training in art history and the culinary arts (she holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as well as a degree from the Culinary Arts Program at the French Culinary Institute), Gomez-Rejón’s career path included working in restaurants in France and Mexico, teaching college level art history, serving as a private chef for elite clients and working in the education department of some of the top art history museums in the country. 

After successfully designing education programs that combined her interests in art and food as part of her work in the education department of the J. Paul Getty Museum, L.A. based Gomez-Rejón decided to strike out on her own and founded ArtBites in late 2007.  Loyal followers of her popular programs continued to attend her cooking classes at art museums in the Los Angeles area including the Los Angeles Museum of Art, the Norton Simon Museum, the Huntington Library, and the Getty.  Personal connections extended her program offerings at host museums across the country including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Frist Center for Visual Arts in Nashville and the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin. 

Each class includes an hour-long art history tour designed by Gomez-Rejón featuring works of art connected to a specific culinary theme.  For example, an ArtBites “Jeffersonian Feast” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art explores how Thomas Jefferson’s work as minister to France brought a French influence to 18th century American art, architecture and food.  The class includes a tour of selected 18th century items in the museum’s collection followed by a cooking class and meal using 18th century French recipes.

“The meal at the end of the class becomes a very social experience that feels like a party, one that is very unlike the experience at most museum tours.  People talk, exchange phone numbers and often form friendships that extend beyond the class itself,” says Gomez-Rejón.  While many participants are women in their 60s or 70s, the classes have been popular with groups of friends, multi-generational families, couples and even as a different option for a first date.   Many participants are repeat customers who follow her classes from museum to museum, and past participants will often provide referrals or even give a class as a gift.

“These classes do bring in a different audience.  I think they are popular because many people who are into art are also into food and food history. There is a huge interest in culinary history right now,”   Gomez-Rejón explains.  Gomez-Rejón estimates that she has designed approximately 60 different classes over the past three years.  While many of her classes focus on western art and food, she has also designed programs around the art and cuisine of Persia, Asia, Japan and Korea.  French and Italian classes have proved to be especially popular, as are classes that focus on famous people like Alexander the Great or Thomas Jefferson.

Gomez-Rejón reflects that “starting my company at a different time might have made it faster or easier to get off the ground.”  Gomez-Rejón currently leads all ArtBites classes herself, though based on her success to date she is contemplating expansion plans that could include a book or even franchising ArtBites experiences in different parts of the country.