As a young boy living in Leavenworth, Wash., Chris Staudinger remembers riding around the small Bavarian-themed town on his bicycle always with a sandwich board on the back of his bike advertising his fledgling tour company. He toured visitors to his home town and helped them discover new shops and learn the local history.
“I’ve always wanted to discover new things about an area I live in and share that with people (who are visiting),” said Staudinger, who lives in Tacoma with his wife, Tawny, and 2-year-old son, Holden.
In August 2016, Staudinger’s vision for a fully-realized tour-guide company based in Tacoma came to fruition, thanks to a cracker-jack team that comprises his wife, and their two close friends, Paul and Jackie Richter. The company provides several Tacoma-centric tours at reasonable cost, including a historic ghost tour, offered exclusively at night, called Boos and Brews, that concludes with a flight of craft beer at a brewery; an antique row tour, which covers seven blocks of one of Tacoma’s oldest neighborhoods; and the Get to Know Tacoma Tour, offering guests an in-depth introduction to the City of Destiny, spanning 10 blocks along vibrant Pacific Avenue.
“We soft-launched the Get to Know Tacoma Tour in early 2017, and we offer it more continuously,” said Staudinger. “It’s a crash-course on Tacoma and a lot more interactive than our other tours, because we focus on tasting our way through Tacoma and offer coffee, cupcakes, and some seasonal-dish samples at restaurants along the way.”
Last spring, Pretty Gritty Tours launched a partnership with City of Tacoma’s Historic Preservation Office. Via the Preservation Office, the company offers a handful of free tours throughout the year, each highlighting and exploring historic neighborhoods.
Lauren Hoogkamer, assistant historic preservation officer, said she has been thrilled with the success of the partnership.
“(Pretty Gritty Tours does) a great job doing the research and providing an entertaining and dynamic experience,” said Hoogkamer. “They create it as an open conversation, taking in those stories from community members along the walk.”
On one tour of South Tacoma, Hoogkamer said Staudinger and his team were able to keep everyone’s attention, despite the heavy downpour of rain.
“They did a good job of engaging everyone,” she said.
The tours have attracted up to 100 people per excursion, usually lasting up to one-and-a-half hours, and are accessible to all ages and activity levels. Upcoming free historic neighborhood tours comprise Hilltop at 3 p.m. on June 9; Fern Hill at 1 p.m. on July 14; Stadium at 3 p.m. on Aug. 18; and Sixth Avenue at 10 a.m. on Sept. 8.
Staudinger and Tawny met serendipitously atop Mt. Kilimanjaro during a study abroad trip to Tanzania, while both attended Pacific Lutheran University. Chris had aspirations to be a stage actor; Tawny had plans to pursue journalism and documentary filmmaking. But after making an instant connection over a love for travel, the couple decided to shake it up a bit, and following graduation, spontaneously moved to Pohang, South Korea, where they taught English to foreigners.
“We spent two years there exploring the area and trying to share those adventures with anyone we could,” said Staudinger. “We guided around other foreigners in the area. We posted 50 or more little vignettes with blogs and videos.”
The couple then traveled roughly 4,200 miles in three weeks across the U.S. as part of a competition, documenting with video, press pieces, and write-ups of things you could do in small-town America.
“It was a good trip, and strenuous,” said Staudinger. “It was the first time we had really intense production deadlines.”
Needless to say, the couple developed a real bug for travel writing. Up until they founded Pretty Gritty Tours, the couple traveled six to eight months out of the year for their travel videography, blogging, and writing projects, under the name Captain and Clark (Tawny’s maiden name). Over the years they have produced destination coverage for outlets like USA Today, Expedia, and BBC Travel.
Today, the couple stays closer to home, caring for Holden and their growing family. While Staudinger leads a bulk of the tours, Tawny stays busy with freelancing for national publications and online media.
Staudinger said he couldn’t pull off the company’s success without Tawny, Jackie, and Paul. Jackie functions as the company’s historian, exhibiting an uncanny ability to find elusive details in Tacoma’s history. Paul serves as a co-guide and also is the team’s “big thinker and idea guy.” Tawny supports the back end of the operation, handling media relations and logistics.
In development is a coffee tour, a sweets tour, and a wine and weed tour. This last one was inspired by the Staudingers’ and Richters’ international friends having an interest in Washington state’s marijuana culture.
“We’ll explore the different kinds of weed you can blend with wine,” said Staudinger. “We want to talk mostly about how (the marijuana industry) works, the reality of it, and take the scare factor out of it.”
The sweets tour, featuring local donut shops, Brown & Haley’s Almond Roca, and cupcakes, will debut at 11 a.m. on July 21. One other date set is a live history event at Anthem Coffee on Pacific Avenue at 3 p.m. on June 30. Visit prettygrittytours.com for a full-listing of tours and pricing.