'Sabor and Soul' food tours in Wimauma highlight the Hillsborough town's history and culture
Organizers want to promote local businesses as the community expands with new development.
People have been flocking to Wimauma in recent weeks for food and culture tours that showcase the South Hillsborough County town’s rich Hispanic and Black history.
The nonprofit Enterprising Latinas organized these “Sabor and Soul” tours with help from community partners and a special events grant from the county, and the effort wraps up this weekend.
During a tour last Saturday afternoon, attendees young and old hopped onto a trolley and were given maracas to shake for applause.
The journey began along a stretch of State Road 674, which tour guide Ileana Cintron dubbed “Hillsborough County’s Taco Road.”
“Because there are 12 taquerias on this stretch of road,” explained Cintron, deputy director of Enterprising Latinas, a group that helps small business owners and promotes community development in Wimauma.
Over the course of 90 minutes, the tours stop by some of these taquerias and visit other bakeries and food trucks in the community. Business owners, many of who are women, greet the guests and share large samples of Mexican, Caribbean and soul food dishes.
Here are some of Wimauma's food staples:
“O-M-G,” said Lynne Hartley midway through her tour shortly after trying a huarache at Taqueria Los Angeles. Huaraches are corn tortillas stuffed with beans and topped with protein and queso fresco.
Joining Hartley was Pam Freas. The two came from nearby Sun City Center and said they had never explored Wimauma before. After reading about the tour, which cost $30 per person, they decided to give it a shot.
“It's such a nice little gem that all we do is drive through, so now we know we've got to stop. We've got to tell people about it; it's very nice,” Freas said.
Brandon resident Joy Shyngle echoed their sentiments as she enjoyed a concha, which is a sweet bread decorated like a seashell, at Garcia’s Bakery.
“It's been really, really fun. I did not know all this about Wimauma and how nice and amazing the food is and the culture and the people,” Shyngle said.
That kind of feedback is music to Ileana Cintron’s ears. The tours are meant to promote local businesses so they can broaden their customer base and benefit from the expansion the town and surrounding areas are experiencing.
“The connection to food is everywhere and those are amazing food traditions that the Hispanic community as well as African-American community have been building for generations in Wimauma," Cintron said, "so that’s worth highlighting and inviting everyone to enjoy.”
In addition to food destinations, the tours take attendees to some cultural sites, including the Wimauma Heritage Cemetery — run by First Prospect Missionary Baptist Church, which Cintron said has been in the community for more than 100 years.
Cintron shared bits of Wimauma’s history with the crowd throughout the tour, from where the town gets its name — a combination of the founder’s three daughter’s names — to how its population and demographics have changed over the years.
The town of roughly 10,000 residents is mostly rural but is growing with new development, similar to other parts of Florida.
For Julia Sarmiento-Cohen, the tour was coming home. The board member of Enterprising Latinas grew up in Wimauma but now lives in Ruskin. She pointed out her childhood house when the trolley drove past it.
Growing up, Sarmiento-Cohen said she felt like Wimauma didn’t get much attention unless it was for negative reasons, like crime.
“To see all of the positive things that are being displayed, I think it just gives hope to other communities that may have started a little bumpy,” Sarmiento-Cohen said. “To see the good things that are coming, with the people and small businesses and all of the growth that we have here, it’s beautiful to see.”
Signs of change were evident as the trolley moved between historic neighborhoods, a housing complex for migrant farmworkers and a new development surrounding a man-made lagoon.
Despite the progress and growing population, Cintron said Wimauma still faces challenges with poverty and access to economic opportunities. She said that’s why community development events like these are so important.
“To change narratives and perceptions about what the community is and help people reimagine Wimauma as a different type of place,” Cintron said.
The effort seems to be paying off, said Cintron, who has been hearing from business owners that they’re already getting more customers coming in who either attended a tour or heard about their establishment through coverage of the event.
It’s been an exciting experience for 12-year-old Mia Gonzalez, who helps her mother run the food truck Antojitos y Raspados on the weekends.
“I just love seeing everyone coming off being so happy. It’s just so nice that people actually want to come and try the food in Wimauma,” Gonzalez said.
Remaining tours for this weekend are sold out, but you can check out some of the spots along “Taco Road” with this map: