Allyson Tolbert and Sarah R. Morgan are actresses-turned-entrepreneurs who have taken their performing chops from theatrical tours and brought them to food-focused ones.
The former traveling Broadway cast members of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast are the cofounders of Sugartooth Tours, a New York City-based food tour company focused solely on dessert. Since its launch in 2012, the company’s tours have become popular Manhattan tourism offerings. “We just love to combine the history of New York, both cultural and culinary, with desserts,” Morgan says.
What began as a tiny tour company staffed only by the founders and launched with money from a successful Indiegogo campaign, today uses three independently contracted tour guides. Sugartooth Tours runs at least four tours every Saturday and Sunday, all year round, that take five or more people on excursions to taste the best desserts the city has to offer. The additional guides and weekend tours allow Morgan and Tolbert the freedom to continue to pursue acting careers on stage and on screen.
Pivoting between show business and startup life hasn’t been all sold-out houses and standing ovations, but the duo has learned valuable lessons and found creative freedom in their entrepreneurial journey, Morgan says. “It’s been a passion project for the both of us. We really enjoy what we do. We were already passionate about desserts, and we were really excited to share some of our favorite New York spots with others.”
From Broadway to Business
Morgan and Tolbert met on a national Beauty and the Beast tour, where they helped create magical experiences for scores of theatergoers onstage. Offstage, they bonded over food tours that they went on together in each new city they visited. Their culinary experiences fostered a belief that “one of the best ways to learn about a city is to taste the food. You learn a lot about the culture of the city through its food,” Morgan says.
After returning home to the Big Apple, Morgan decided to take Tolbert on a ice cream tour for her birthday — except she couldn’t find one. “I thought that was a shame. I thought, ‘Surely I can’t be the only one who’s interested in this,’” Morgan says. So she created her own custom tour, a thoughtful gesture that would spark the creation of Sugartooth Tours.
Before launching, Morgan and Tolbert refined their first tour with input from friends and family — a flagship “Find Heaven in Hell’s Kitchen” offering that takes people through that central Manhattan neighborhood. Following its success, they added other tours covering sections of the world-famous Broadway, fashionable Chelsea and other popular spots around Manhattan. The pair also designed specialty and season-specific offerings, like a Valentine’s Day tour and an Ice Cream Summer Tour (get a taste from the video below).
The appeal of what they do, Morgan says, is the emphasis on the sweet stuff. “We were really fortunate in that we offer an unique product. There’s not really another company like ours that focuses on dessert.”
Finding a New Type of Audience
As professional actresses, Morgan and Tolbert didn’t know what to expect when launching their first business. Both had graduated from college — Ithaca College and the University of Florida, respectively — with degrees in acting. Neither had any entrepreneurial experience.
Thankfully, one part came more naturally to them: As actresses, the two founders were perfect fits as tour guides. Assuming those roles themselves instead of hiring guides allowed them to keep costs low while starting the business.
Beyond that smart move, Morgan credits their success to their ability to keep an open mind. “I don’t know that I came in with a lot of grand expectations. I just thought: ‘Let’s just create something great and see what happens. And hopefully people will come in.’ And they did.”
That open-mindedness was especially important when the pair began to strategize how to market the business. Through a process of trial and error, coupled with a significant amount of research, they settled on a mixture of press outreach, a strong social media presence and positive word-of-mouth through online reviews to reach new customers.
Now that Sugartooth Tours is more established and on more solid financial footing, Morgan and Tolbert are focused on expanding beyond Manhattan into Brooklyn and Queens, and adding larger-scale, private and high-end custom tours for corporate clients. Meantime, to satisfy loyal customers, Sugartooth Tours regularly changes up the lineup of each tour.
Though entrepreneurship has come with a steep learning curve, it has been ”an incredible journey in expanding our knowledge,” Morgan says. “There is something creatively fulfilling in starting your own business.”
The Story Exchange recently went on Sugartooth’s Ice Cream Summer Sundays Frozen Treats Tour, which takes participants from Union Square to Little Italy.
There were six stops in the 2-hour tour, which ranged from the healthy reimagined soft-serve fruit popsicles of Chloe’s and artisanal handcrafted ice cream at Oddfellows to the cold curveball of delicious rice pudding at Rice to Riches. At each stop, tour guide Erin Hunkemoeller regaled us with tidbits on each shop’s background, and the history of the city and the American love affair with ice cream. The experience was equal parts delicious and informative.