Wimauma “Sabor and Soul” food tours highlight history and culture

People have flocked to Wimauma in recent weeks for food and cultural tours that showcase the South Hillsborough county town’s rich Hispanic and black history.

The association enterprising latinas organized these “Sabor and Soul” tours with the help of community partners and a county special events grant, and the effort wraps up this weekend.

Stephanie Colombini

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WUSF Public Media

Clearwater Jolley Trolleys drove tour groups around Wimauma.

During a tour last Saturday afternoon, participants young and old jumped on a cart and were given maracas to shake to applause.

The trip 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, tours stop at some of these taquerias and visit other bakeries and food trucks in the community. Business owners, many of whom are women, welcome guests and share great samples of Mexican, Caribbean and soul food.

Here are some of Wimauma’s staple foods:

“OMG,” Lynne Hartley said midway through her tour shortly after trying out 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. Both men were from nearby downtown Sun City and said they had never explored Wimauma before. After learning about the tour, which was $30 per person, they decided to give it a shot.

“It’s such a pretty little gem that we’re only driving through so now we know we have to stop. We need to tell people about it; it’s very nice,” Freas said.

Two women smile together on a trolley

Stephanie Colombini

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WUSF Public Media

Lynne Hartley (left) and Pam Freas (right) came from downtown Sun and said they planned to be regular visitors to some of the restaurants they tried on the tour.

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 was really, really fun. I didn’t know all that about Wimauma and how good and amazing the food, culture and people are,” Shyngle said.

This kind of comeback is music to Ileana Cintron’s ears. The tours are intended to promote local businesses so that they can expand their customer base and benefit from the expansion that the city and its surroundings are experiencing.

The woman stands inside a cart and speaks with a microphone

Stephanie Colombini

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WUSF Public Media

Ileana Cintron with Enterprising Latinas helped organize the tours and was one of the guides.

“The connection to food is everywhere and these are amazing food traditions that the Hispanic community as well as the African American community have built over generations in Wimauma,” Cintron said, “so it’s worth highlighting and invite everyone to enjoy it.”

In addition to food destinations, tours take participants to select cultural sites, including the Wimauma Heritage Cemetery, operated by the First Prospect Missionary Baptist Church, which Cintron says 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 got its name – a combination of the names of the founder’s three daughters – to how its population and demographics have changed over the years.

The city of about 10,000 people is mostly rural but growing with new developments, similar to other parts of Florida.

graves in a cemetery, some with American flags on the headstones

Stephanie Colombini

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WUSF Public Media

Not all tour stops are food establishments. Some cultural sites, such as the Wimauma Heritage Cemetery, are also included.

For Julia Sarmiento-Cohen, the tour was coming home. The Enterprising Latinas board member grew up in Wimauma but now lives in Ruskin. She pointed to her childhood home as the cart drove past.

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 the positive things that are being posted, I think it just gives hope to other communities that maybe started off a little bumpy,” Sarmiento-Cohen said. “To see the good things happening, with the people and the small businesses and all 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 farm workers and a new development surrounding a man-made lagoon.

three women smile and sit on a cart

Stephanie Colombini

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WUSF Public Media

Joy Shyngle (left) and Julia Sarmiento-Cohen (right) came on tour with friends. Shyngle was new to the Wimauma experience, while Sarmiento-Cohen grew up there.

Despite progress and population growth, Cintron said Wimauma still faces challenges related to poverty and access to economic opportunities. She said that’s why community building events like these are so important.

“To change narratives and perceptions about what community is and help people reimagine Wimauma as a different kind of place,” Cintron said.

The effort appears to be paying off, said Cintron, who has heard from business owners that they are already attracting more customers who attended a tour or heard about their establishment through coverage of the event.

girl stands in front of a food truck

Stephanie Colombini

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WUSF Public Media

12-year-old Mia Gonzalez’s mother runs a food truck and helps out on the weekends. She said it was fun to connect with potential new clients during these visits.

It was an exciting experience for 12-year-old Mia Gonzalez, who helps her mother run the Antojitos y Raspados food truck on the weekends.

“I love seeing everyone walk out so happy. It’s so nice that people really want to come and try the food at Wimauma,” Gonzalez said.

Remaining tours for this weekend have sold out, but you can check out some of the sites along “Taco Road” with this map:

List and map of 12 taquerias along National Road 674 in Wimauma, nicknamed "Hillsborough Taco Road."
In addition to these taquerias, Wimauma offers fruit and vegetable stalls, bakeries and other places to eat.

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