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Good times, good food

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Passion for sharing meals turns into a local tour business
The Hungry Hustle Walking Food Tour led by Melynda Cordes stopped recently at Bricktowne Brewing Company in downtown Medford to sample some beers and food. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
A Supremo Sandwich and empanadas from Caba Empanadas were part of a recent food tour in downtown Medford. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Seth Cordes and Lanessa Pierce bite into desserts at Caba Empanadas in Medford. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Lanessa Pierce opens up an empanada from Caba Empanadas in downtown Medford. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

An unbridled passion for well-made, delicious food and fun gatherings has set the tone for much of Melynda Cordes’s 54 years’ worth of dinners, brunches and backyard barbecues.

Passionate about all things food and drink — from farmers markets and food trucks to international cuisine from the tiniest cafes — the Bay Area native grew up knowing the importance of a great meal enjoyed in the best of company.

“My favorite childhood memories have to do with food. I love food,” said Cordes, who organizes local food adventures through her business The Hungry Hustle Walking Food Tour.

“I grew up in a household culture that really enjoyed family meals and gathering around the table and sharing a meal. I really missed that when we came here 20 years ago, to Medford.”

Cordes has worked in various industries around the valley, but she said she knew she would eventually find a way to join the growing restaurant culture in Southern Oregon.

After checking out a Portland food tour a few years ago, Cordes’s husband, Eric, gave her a nudge.

“Hungry Hustle was my husband’s idea. We both really love to find new and wonderful places to eat — and I love to hear myself talk,” she teased.

“We did one of the tours in Port-land and it was awesome. I was like, ‘Alright, we can do this. We have to do this.”

The gist of the Hungry Hustle is that Cordes meets with a group of fun-seeking foodies for a tour of local food offerings.

Some tour concepts are simplistic, such as an afternoon of visiting downtown eateries and chatting about farmer’s market offerings.

Others are specifically themed for holidays or types of cuisine. Think “Tacos and Tequilas,” “Breweries and Brothels” or even a historical approach packed with haunted tales.

Ideas and themes are inspired by Cordes’ love of fun, and the local food scene seems eager to provide a steady supply of places to visit.

Social distancing and COVID-19 restrictions put a slight damper on Cordes’s plans after she launched Hungry Hustle, but with more locals stuck working from home, and local restaurants clambering for support, her tours have been popular — and packed — since day one.

“More and more food trucks were showing up. People were quitting their jobs and starting up food trucks, and people were sick of being home, so they were ordering takeout or dining outside,” Cordes said.

“We were still able to do our tours as long as they were outside or the groups all knew each other. It was just a really fun thing to do. People wanted good food and some normal.”

Recent tour-goers Linda and Tony Kilcollins, who live in Jacksonville, tagged along for a weekday afternoon with Bricktowne Brewing’s nachos and beer flights followed by empanadas at downtown Medford’s Caba and fresh-churned ice cream from Sweet Cream.

Repeat visitors on Cordes’ tours, their out-of-town family discovered Cordes before they did.

“My parents from Wisconsin found her online and thought it would be a fun thing to do when they came to visit,” Linda Kilcollins said.

On their first trip with Cordes, the group ventured to Gtanos in Grants Pass, followed by Cultured Palate, Twisted Cork and the Horny Goat.

“Gtanos makes tableside guacamole,” offered Cordes. “It is so good.”

Kilcollins said Cordes is a natural for sharing local gems.

“The fact you get to go to so many places to check them out is just really fun,” Kilcollins said. “She finds the best places to go, and she makes it so enjoyable. It’s different every time.”

Bricktowne co-owner Dennis Clark said Cordes’ tours are a fun way to showcase the local food scene.

“It’s hard to even imagine, but just in this downtown corridor there are at least 20 unique places to go, and you wouldn’t realize it unless you were looking for most of them,” said Clark.

“The downtown has created a really solid core, and it’s only going to get better.”

Cordes said she was hopeful her tours would become as much a part of the downtown fabric as the array of eateries she’s working to share with visitors and locals alike.

“Medford has a lot of cool history and some fun stuff to do, and we have so many wonderful restaurants that so many people haven’t even heard of yet. They’re like the unsung wonders of downtown Medford,” she said.

“You’ve got spring rolls and home-made peanut sauce at Noonie’s that’ll knock your socks off, Rogue Organic Café has the most delicious Gypsy soup, and Sweet Cream is a must-try with their lemon lavender. If we’re feeling adventurous, we get a ripper (deep fried hot dog) from Burger Spot.”

She started with tours in Grants Pass and Medford, and other tours have ventured to Ashland.

Tour activities range from brewery and farmers market samplings to historic tales and themed evening events.

“Nothing brings people together like food. I mean, alcohol does, too, but gathering to share food and drink together really loosens people up,” said Cordes.

“When we get a group together, everyone tells stories about their favorite meals, or we’ll eat something and it will remind them of the way their gramma used to make the same thing.

“We have great creators here, and there’s a lot of flavor in downtown Medford. ... If you don’t go looking for it, you’re really gonna be missing out.”

Find out more

For more details about The Hungry Hustle Walking Food Tour, see hustlesouthernoregon.com or www.facebook.com/HungryHustlewalksMedford

Click here to read the 2022 edition of Our Valley.