The Chews Letter
Story by Cynthia McFarland • Photos by Mark Anderson
A Great Journey
Food Tour Guide Opens Doors to Local Culture
Food Tour Guide Opens Doors to Local Culture
It took college and a stint of living in Chicago to open Kaitlyn Butler’s eyes to a whole new world of food and culture.
Raised in rural Levy County, Kaitlyn grew up with the quintessential country life. “My family owns a farm in Morriston, growing mostly watermelons and peanuts. I was Little Miss Peanut at the Peanut Festival in Williston and showed hogs and steers in FFA [Future Farmers of America],” recalls Kaitlyn. “My dad’s family goes way back in Ocala, and my mom grew up in Williston. She runs the Peddler Floral.”
After graduating from Williston High School in 2010, Kaitlyn attended College of Central Florida in Ocala, where she discovered her love for writing and public relations. “I was thinking of going into agriculture communications, but when I took a required journalism course, my professor said I’d be good at [public relations], so I went into that program at UF [University of Florida],” she says.
“Going to UF opened my eyes to so many different cultures and types of cuisine. It totally shifted my worldview. Many of my friends there were people whose parents were first generation immigrants,” says Kaitlyn.
“I grew up with Southern food: a protein, a starch, and a vegetable with every meal,” she says. “As I started to learn more about the world and the people around me, it opened my eyes and made me excited to explore cuisines, and my tastes expanded.”
Her favorite Gainesville restaurant is Reggae Shack, and her all-time favorite dish is Jamaican oxtail.
In 2018, Kaitlyn moved to Chicago, where she worked as a communications consultant for a food blogger and did a lot of recipe testing. “Some of the ingredients I was sent to buy were so unusual, I had to google them,” she says.
As much as she relished the foodie adventure of living in Chicago, Kaitlyn missed her home state’s friendly atmosphere, not to mention the warmer weather. When she had an opportunity to move back in 2019, she took it.
Two weeks before leaving the city, she received a food tour as a gift. “I absolutely loved it. It allows you to know the culture of a city and understand it better. It’s a unique way to get to know an area,” says Kaitlyn.
“What I love about food is its ability to allow us to explore new cultures. Sometimes, life limits your ability to travel, but food has the gift of transporting you to experience something unique.”
Back in the Sunshine State, Kaitlyn now works as communications and community engagement director for HCA Florida Ocala Hospital and HCA Florida West Marion Hospital.
In November 2019, after extensive research and planning and inspired by the food tour she’d taken in Chicago, Kaitlyn launched Brick City Food Tours. Her slogan: “Discover Ocala’s flavor and history one bite at a time.”
Tours take place on Saturday and Sunday. These walking tours of 10 people feature four to five stops at locally-owned and -operated restaurants.
“My first job as a teen was working at Ivy House restaurant in Williston, so it’s come full circle now that I have Ivy on the Square as one of the restaurants in our tour,” smiles Kaitlyn.
“I stick to downtown and locally-owned places. We have such a wide variety of cuisines in downtown Ocala, and the history is fascinating,” notes Kaitlyn, whose tours include intriguing elements of Ocala’s history, dating back to the 1800s. Upon request, she also does private bar and speakeasy tours downtown.
Kaitlyn recently joined the associate board for the Reilly Arts Center. “The art world and food world in Ocala are closely related,” she notes. “The Reilly Arts Center really expanded my feeling of belonging. I realized I’d found my people.”
Now 30, Kaitlyn is mom to 1-½-year-old Vivianne. It’s no surprise that Vivianne is almost as adventurous as her mama when it comes to food.
“She skipped purees altogether and went straight for baby-led weaning. I brought her home Jamaican oxtail when she was 6 months old, and she loved it,” says Kaitlyn. “She eats black beans and rice, smoked salmon, anything. She’s not a picky eater.”
Slow No More
Kaitlyn laughs to remember that people once referred to Ocala as “Slocala.” “Back then, Ocala wasn’t what it is now. Ocala is now a destination for dining, and there’s something going on here every single weekend. Ocala is so unique; it’s large enough to have everything you need, but small enough to have that sense of community,” says Kaitlyn proudly.
“I love living here and love the energy of downtown. It’s been a great journey, and this is just the beginning.”