Places (& Food) to Love with Samantha Brown

October 10, 2022

Welcome to Dana Delivers by Aprio podcasts, the podcast that helps restaurant owners and operators learn from industry experts about trends and opportunities. On every episode, Dana Zukofsky, the leader of Aprio’s restaurant advisory team, explores a topic impacting our industry in a candid conversation. And now, let’s hear what Dana is serving up on this episode.

Today, we have Samantha Brown with us, who’s the host of Places to Love on PBS. Samantha, thanks so much for being with us today.

My pleasure, Dana. Nice to see you again.

Yes, thank you. And I always like to start the podcast with the first time I met someone, and Samantha and I met at Annie Fitzsimmons’, I want to say baby shower. And every so often, I’m not sure if it’s baby or bridal because they both were really at the same time. And after the shower, we sat, and we spoke, and Samantha told me she wasn’t going to be able to go to the wedding, but her husband was. And I ended up getting to hang out with Kevin throughout the trip. And then we got to talk at another wedding a few years later, all about how much we missed Samantha on the trip. So I’m happy we had a chance to connect anyway. So thanks for being here. 

Thank you.

And I think everyone listening has probably heard of or seen you on either Places to Love on PBS or on your Travel Channel show. So can you tell us a little bit about how did that start, how’d you get into this?

Yeah, I actually went to school for musical theater and, to bring it all the way back to my college years, Syracuse University, and so I moved to the Big Apple to make it as an actress, which means I waited on tables for close to a decade in New York City. I’m well aware of the other part of the hospitality side. I have given hospitality, I have received it. But I actually auditioned for the job of a travel host, believe it or not, and I got the job. And so I started working with the Travel Channel, and that’s how I became who I am today, which is, which is pretty amazing to me. It’s something I never in my wildest dreams would have thought this would be my career. It’s still a dream.

Right. It’s amazing. And now you left Travel Channel, were on PBS, and you have Places to Love. How do you pick the places that you’re traveling to? Now again, most of the people listening are restaurant-related or travel-related hospitality. So everyone probably wants their city to be talked about. Where does that idea come from? How do you start? 

We start with just kind of a little mishmash of great locations. I get to choose all the locations, which is wonderful. I didn’t in my early Travel Channel years, that was up to other people. And so I always like to, if we have a season, say 13 episodes, we definitely want to do half international, half domestic. That was curtailed because of the pandemic. But we’re back up going internationally again. But then I look at these 13 episodes. And number one, its budget right? What can we afford? We have a budget go-to. And then we always want to pick exclamation point destinations that everyone dreams of going to, maybe it’s Budapest, Hungary, or Big Sky Montana. But then my favorite part, Dana, is finding the little known places. I call them the B sides. Remember records? There was the A side and the A side was the hit, the B side no one really knew about, but it was still a good song. And so I always love to find the B side destinations. And so we focus on those and for me, those become really wonderful because there’s so much to discover everywhere and anywhere you go. You really can find just about any place we go to, it’s a really interesting travel destination. So that’s what we focus on. We focus on the places that everyone’s heard about and still bucket list and everyone dreams of going to, but then we want to show you another side of travel that’s a lot more accessible, a lot more affordable, and sometimes a lot more interesting. 

Right, when you travel somewhere like you said in the beginning, the A side, right? You go to Rome, you could pick up a million travel books, even as someone who, this is their job, I’m sure research is a huge part of it. When you’re going to the B side, how do you research, how do you find out where you’re going, or what you want to do and how to do it? 

Yeah, usually it’s a little mixture of I really look at social media. It’s interesting, social media, say Instagram. If I’m following a great, say, art gallery, or maybe even a restaurant somewhere in Chattanooga. Instagram will then give me other handles I should follow that are based in that locale. And so okay, from this restaurant, I can go to this gallery or this record shop. And so it kind of plays out that way too. So I’ve got that little area. I love going to local newspapers.

Oh, that’s so interesting.

I like journalism, I’m a big journalism girl. 

Wow, I like that.

Old school. And so I’ll go to their local newspapers because local newspapers always highlight the local businesses, where national newspapers, not so much. And so you find those little known places. Also, it’s just kind of boots on the ground. If I’m walking down a main street of whatever destination I’m in, I always try to go one or two blocks beyond that main street and walk the parallel and the side streets. That’s where the more interesting businesses are. A lot of businesses can’t afford to be on the main street. And then if you’re a business on the main street, you’ve got to do a lot to keep up with that rent. But the side streets, they offer a little more, I don’t know, interesting, just a lot more of a discovery of little businesses that are trying their best to make it. And what are those businesses?

A little more flavor, for sure.

A little more flavor, yeah.

You get to go to the places before you go, like before the taping, or do you send people to go for you?

So, no, we send people. You met one of them, Kevin, my husband. He loves pre-production, he loves it. And so he, of course, schedules a lot of things. And we talk about, ‘okay, what do we want to see?’ But then he just wanders, and that’s a really big part of our pre-production, is to be able just to kind of go, ‘what’s down that street?’ But we actually work that into our schedule, into pre-production, so we’re able to line it up while we’re actually there filming. 

Right, a lot of steps for sure. And you said how the pandemic changed going from international to domestic. I think we all saw that too. And again, a lot of the people listening are domestic operators that own hotels or restaurants, domestically. What did you see from your perspective, post, now as we’re coming out of the pandemic, of people who were traveling, and I think a lot of these cities are the B side cities, right? We love New York, and we love Chicago and LA, but there’s been such an introduction to some of these cities, like Asheville. You’ve known of these. How does that affect you and make you feel about these cities and the exploration?

What I love about, one of the benefits of the pandemic, if you can even say that sentence, was that we all became fierce advocates of our local. We were going to make sure that our favorite restaurants survive, we were going to make sure that our favorite waiter still had a job, we found out who had the local pottery shop. I’ve never ordered pottery for them, I’m going to make sure I do. We found that even on a walk from our home to maybe a second location, there was this whole world to discover of musicians we didn’t know about, and freed shops of people who just creators, they were creators, whether it was in the food industry, or art or music, and how can we support them? And as the pandemic then sort of loosened its grip, and we were able to go further, and we remember the time I wasn’t even allowed to go to the state of Maine. It was crazy. There was a time that we couldn’t even cross border states. So as that sort of lessened, and now we were able to, instead of just staying in New York City and going to London, we were able to go to upstate New York. Now upstate New York is like, ‘oh my gosh, do you realize how amazing upstate New York is?’

Who thought the Finger Lakes would be the most exciting destination ever? It’s beautiful.

I am a huge fan of the Finger Lakes. I don’t even know why I go anywhere else. Wine country? We have it. So that became really interesting. So then this love and respect for things that were closer to us, that were in our own backyard, really became what was important to all of us, because we thought, ‘well, how can I take what I’ve learned about my own locality, and just apply it somewhere else?’ Because no matter where you go, how far you travel, you are literally just going to someone else’s local. So I think more people are approaching their travel like that, right?

I’m a bookstore person. 

Oh, yes.

Everywhere I go. I try to find a local bookstore and at least buy one book because I want there to always be a bookstore. 


I hate the idea that there might not be. So I do my part to support a bookstore everywhere I go. Send me recommendations.

Did you know, Dana, just based on what you said, you have a fantastic travel destination. So I’m always asked, ‘well, like, where should we go? What should we do? What’s an interesting place?’ In the year of the pandemic, I believe 300 new independent bookstores opened. Can you believe that? 


Yes, the independent bookstore collective has never seen – association – has never seen growth like they have in the last two years. And so if you think about it, an independent bookstore, if it can survive, there has to be a good community, there has to be some sort of downtown Main Street. And now that independent bookstore is most likely attracting new businesses, new restaurants, now, if a restaurant owner or chef sees that this independent bookstore is doing good. So it just attracts. So I’ve actually told people if you want to find a cool new destination that no one’s really heard about, check where the independent bookstores are. Go there.

Oh, how cool is that? I’m ahead of the trend. I mean, that’s also fun. In your domestic travels, what’s one of the cities that stand out most that was maybe one of the biggest surprises to you? I know every city is special.

No, no, I totally agree. 

Out of every destination.

I’m going to give you upstate New York, which obviously is not a destination, it’s a massive, massive area, but we were coming right out of the pandemic and we traveled to the Genesee River Valley. There was so much to fall in love with this area. It has a state park, Letchworth State Park, which is considered the Grand Canyon of the East, waterfalls and canyons I never even knew existed in New York.

Oh, wow.

I went to school at Syracuse University. I never knew any of this existed. There’s a lot of abbeys so we visited cloistered monks, and learned from them what it means to be isolated, and what we can learn from that. My favorite part of Letchworth State Park was that they were building the very first of its kind in the United States autism nature trail. 

How interesting.

And this was with integration with Temple Grandin, creating a space specifically for neurodivergent children and adults. It’s never been done. And then if we can get back to, I know what your passion is, food, restaurants. We featured the city – and now I’m going to forget its name, because I’m sorry, it is not a city, these are little towns, there’s like a county of 11 main towns. And in this one main street, a wonderful restaurant opened up called Boriken. And that’s, I think, that’s Puerto Rican. You’re Puerto Rican, you’re Boriken. And it was opened up by this wonderful woman named Melanie, chef. And she was from Puerto Rico, moved to upstate New York to be closer to her sister, but she makes amazing Puerto Rican food. And she does it from scratch. And she uses the mortar and pestle to grind her corn, to make her mofongo.


Mofongo, right? The better story of this, and to go to like, ‘how do we choose these restaurants?’, because for us, it has nothing to do with how good of a chef you are, or how completely successful your restaurant is. It’s the story and the effort behind what you’re doing. And so, Melanie, this one town, and again, I’m really upset I don’t remember the name of it. They have this competition every year where they give out funds to businesses, and they want to bring in more diversity to these Old Main Street towns that were made popular at a time like when the Erie Canal was still a main thoroughfare, right? The old ways of these towns surviving have disappeared. And now they’re trying to bring in new blood. And so Melanie won the competition. She submitted a business plan, she wanted to open up this restaurant, it’s based on her mother’s recipes. She’s been cooking her whole life. We’re in upstate New York, it’s mainly European restaurants, and she won. So for that, the town gave her a nice big chunk of money plus mentorship for an entire year – another business owner who could guide her through all the ups and downs of what it is to own a restaurant. They helped her find a location right there on Main Street. And so we featured her phenomenal food, amazing spirit, and she just moved into a bigger location because she’s so successful. So, that’s the kind of story we’re looking for. It’s not just ‘hey, do you have the best cronut? Are you famous?’ It really is the heart and soul of what it takes to own your own restaurant at a very difficult time.

Right. It’s not a Food Network that’s highlighting the best. The story is so much more important.

Exactly. We spend a lot of time on that person’s story.

Well, right when you’re thinking about the places you love, if we’re using the name, what makes the place you love what you love about it is the people and all that that surrounds it. You ever go somewhere, personally, that you’re like, ‘oh, I want everyone to know about this, but I don’t want anyone to know about my secret.’ Did you ever love somewhere so much that you are conflicted about sharing?

I don’t think I have that kind of reach. I’m not an Anthony Bourdain, by any stretch. 


He certainly could. He’s someone who, once he went there, it would absolutely move the needle. I don’t have that. And I’m happy not to have that. I’m happy not to have that on my back. 

I would imagine. 

Yeah, yeah, we know with the PBS audience, we know we’ve got a great audience who cares about travel. It’s not just about collecting a food experience. It’s really about connecting with that community that that restaurant belongs to.

Right. Now, that’s all amazing. So what do you have upcoming that you’re so looking forward to?

Oh, I’m going to Ireland in five days. I’m so excited, yeah.

Have you been?

I have, many, many times. I haven’t been since 2017, I think, which isn’t too long ago. But Ireland is a hop, skip and a jump. And it’s just a great place. Ireland is one of those places that when I went to in my earlier years, in my career that really taught me how to talk to strangers. And I think in Ireland, everyone thought everyone’s friendly. Everyone. And you could be standing on a street corner waiting to cross, and you will have an amazing conversation. The Irish know how to do it. So I always love going there just to be sort of refreshed of my humanity.

Wow, I’m booking a trip. The same place you’ve been, a new show. How do you not go back to the original places you love?

We just do different areas. So we’re doing Belfast, which I’m really excited about. I’ve never been there. I’ve never been to Northern Ireland, or that part of Ireland. And then Limerick. Certainly, Belfast is going to be completely different. When you go to Ireland, you’re like, ‘okay, how many pubs can we really go to? How many?’

I mean, I don’t know about you, Samantha, but maybe a few. Pre-production had quite a few pubs in it, I’m sure.

Exactly. Definitely. So we understand that we’ve been to a pub before. How do we show that pub? What’s a different way to show a pub and Gaelic music? And so we’re always looking for different ways, different perspectives, of a similar subject. And luckily, we find them all the time.

Well, that’s amazing. So a few minutes left. Last question. Is there anywhere you haven’t been that you’re dying to go?

Oh, my gosh, I want to go to Newfoundland. I just love that area of the world, that northern landscape. I read a lot of books in this sort of setting of just kind of sparseness, a few lighthouses. I just, I love that whole area. So I know that’s probably strange to a lot of people, but I love the space, and I love seeing space and nature. And then there’s a lot of culture there as well. So that’s one place that I really have high on my list. That, and Mexico City. I haven’t been back to Mexico City in, easily, 12 years, and it’s just the most underrated capital city in the world.

I hear that all the time. People who go, they just love it.

Yeah, it’s phenomenal. It’s just phenomenal. When I was there, there wasn’t this high end culinary experience that I know is there now. We’re really excited about it. It was just like getting a torta on the side of the street by an amazing grandmother that that’s what she’s done her entire life. And oh my gosh, it just knocks your socks off. And the museums are amazing there. And it’s just a great city.

Wow. Well, I love how as we’re speaking, although no one else could see, every time you talk about a different city, your face lights up. I appreciate that so much that you shared it with me. Thank you again for telling me a little bit about what’s going on with you and your travels and food and fun and all that. And post-Ireland, I hope to see you guys soon. And that’s really it. But thank you so much for joining us today.

Well Dana, thank you so much for having me.

Thank you to all of our listeners to the Dana Delivers by Aprio podcast. If you liked today’s podcast, please hit the subscribe button. Dana Delivers is brought to you by Aprio, a premier accounting and business advisory firm with offices across the US and clients around the globe.

About Samantha Brown:

Samantha Brown is the host of the Emmy award-winning PBS show Places to Love, where she travels around the United States and internationally to find culture-filled destinations most people may not know about.

Before Places to Love, Samantha hosted shows like Great Weekends, Passport to Europe, Passport to Latin America, and Great Hotels on the Travel Channel. Over the course of fifteen years, she has visited over 60 countries to find and tell the stories of little-known, but important people.

Samantha received her bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Syracuse University.

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About the Author

Dana Zukofsky

Dana Zukofsky is the Restaurant, Franchise & Hospitality Practice Leader at Aprio, providing advisory, accounting and consulting services to help foster profitability and growth.