John Nolan guides Greenvillians and guests alike on a culinary journey of the city

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Photos by Will Crooks

Ten years and 40,000 guests later, Greenville History Tours’ John Nolan is just getting started.

What began as a walking tour advertised by an A-frame sign on the sidewalk in front of City Hall has grown to include 11 different driving tours and classes, with half of them focusing on Greenville’s growing culinary scene.

Two more culinary offerings were just added to the lineup – a breakfast tour launching Aug. 15 and a world coffee course beginning in September. At an Aug. 2 press conference at Soby’s, Nolan announced he’s also writing a book for Arcadia Press called “Lost Restaurants of Greenville.” It’s scheduled to be published fall 2018.

“Lost Restaurants of Greenville” will highlight such long-gone eateries as Boston Lunch and Ye Olde Fireplace and the more recent closures of Bistro Europa and American Grocery Restaurant.

“Greenville is growing, and I want to grow with it,” Nolan said on the Soby’s patio after Mayor Knox White and Visit Greenville SC’s Chris Stone publicly lauded his contribution to Greenville’s exploding tourism industry.

Eight years ago, Nolan experienced his first restaurant tour in New York City and had such a great time that he knew he wanted to bring the concept to Greenville. He met with Carl Sobocinski of Table 301 Restaurants, and the two partnered for the At the Chef’s Table tour, which continues to sell out twice a week.

The tour, which allows guests to dine at five chef’s tables, is two and a half to three hours long and makes stops at Table 301’s Nose Dive, Soby’s on the Side, The Lazy Goat, Soby’s New South Cuisine, and Passarelle Bistro.

Nolan’s partnering restaurants have since grown to include more than 30 stops, mostly downtown and in the West End, but also extending out to the Augusta Street, Haywood Road, and San Souci areas.

He recently partnered with Famous Toastery, Biscuit Head, and LeGrand Bakery, which allowed him to launch the first breakfast tour.

“[Breakfast] places closer to downtown are more recent, and I wanted to feature newer places offering unique twists on things,” Nolan said at the beginning of one of his recent trial runs of the tour.

The tour begins at 7:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in front of Joel’s Java at the Poinsett Hotel. From there, Nolan leads the group around the corner to Famous Toastery, which has been open in the former Two Chefs location for less than a month. After a brief intro by owner Cindy Stone, coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, and an Avocado Benny with a side of grits are served. Stone says the half avocado topped with a poached egg, melted pepper jack, and fresh pico de gallo has been a big seller.

At Biscuit Head, guests are treated to a mimosa, coffee, and on this occasion, a grilled chicken biscuit with avocado mango salsa, poached egg, and lime crema. Of course, a trip to the jam bar for a selection of house-made spreads and jams to slather on the biscuit is a necessity. Insider tip: Try the sweet potato chai jam.

The third and final stop is LeGrand Bakery on Augusta. After three pastry samples, including a chocolate croissant, and a third cup of coffee before 9 a.m., it’s back to the van to head to the starting point.

Speaking of coffee, Nolan’s love for it led him to take a coffee class while in Italy, which prompted a conversation with friend and Bob Jones University colleague Vincenzo Antignani about offering such an experience in Greenville. Antignani, who is from Italy, has partnered with Nolan to offer an international coffee discovery class at the newly opened 101 Espresso Bar on Wade Hampton Boulevard. Beginning in September, the class will feature Italian and French brewing methods and give guests a look at the roasting process.

“My goal is to make great experiences for people whether they’re visitors or local,” Nolan says.

Visit greenvillehistorytours.com for tour dates and tickets.

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