It's no surprise that many people in our community share a passion for food. After all, downtown is Virginia’s First Culinary District, a designation that is celebrated in the Rocktown Food Book. The book shares the stories behind many of the people who help make Harrisonburg a culinary destination. One of these people is Regina Hissong, a co-owner of Rocktown Bites Food Tours. "The Rocktown Food book was a great collaboration between three friends that I respect very much--Kirsten Moore, Brandy Sommers and Lynda Bostrom. They did such a thorough job of getting glimpses into the food scene all over Harrisonburg--not just at the diverse downtown establishments but in the homes of Harrisonburg people that show their love of people through their food. Harrisonburg is a culinary district because of the art, fun, events and people that revolve around the food scene. I used the book like a yearbook of sorts for our city and had many restauranteurs, managers and business owners sign my copy so that it can sit on my coffee table and be an everpresent springboard for discussions about food," shares Regina.
For Regina Hissong, food started out as a basic necessity. She ate three meals a day and didn't give it another thought. Coming from a single parent household meant that meals had to be convenient and usually came from the freezer. However, when she started eating meals with friends, Regina discovered that food brought much more than nourishment.
Regina’s love for food grew as she aged. When her sixteenth birthday was approaching, all Regina wanted was to prepare an extravagant meal with her friends, which is very unlike how most sixteen year olds choose to spend their birthdays. She remembers going to the library and digging through cookbooks to find recipes for a complete six-course meal. "We even had palette cleansers," says Regina. She shares that even from a young age, she recognized the power food has to bring people together.
Now, Regina teaches second grade at a local elementary school. Food is still her passion and she finds ways to incorporate it into her classroom curriculum. She also participates in many food-related ventures outside of the classroom. In her spare time, she is one of the faces behind Rocktown Bites. She spends time giving people food tours downtown, which showcases the downtown businesses while allowing people to get a taste of multiple restaurants.
Some plates from Rocktown Bites food tours
A teacher at heart, she also runs multiple summer camps for children. She partners up with You Made It! for the “Not so Starving Artist” camp. The kids spend half of the camp in the kitchen with Regina and the other half painting pottery. Another camp is called “Chef in the Making” which allows her to share the importance of farmers and the value in having fresh and local food. A week at the camp includes a day at a local farm harvesting, the next day at the Farmer’s Market purchasing food, and the final day at the Local Chop & Grill House preparing the food they had purchased. "The children definitely get the farm to table experience!" says Regina.
Chef in the Making campers as they visit a local farm, go to the Farmer's Market, and are ready to eat their pizza
A key theme behind Rocktown Bites and the camps Regina organizes is the collaboration with other businesses. Regina relays how grateful she is to have made connections with people downtown and how easy they were to make! Even when she is downtown in her free time, she loves that she can order food from one of the restaurants and enjoy it at one of the breweries. She loves the unique downtown dining culture. "When I order a plate from any place downtown, I believe I am getting a piece of the person that made it because of the passion that is behind every plate." No matter what her mood is, she feels she can find the perfect dish with the diverse options. "When I want a late night bite, I grab some sticky nugs from Billy Jack’s, but when I want something a little lighter, I get a chicken sandwich from Pure Eats…even though I'll probably grab a donut while there," she continues.
One thing is certain, food will continue to be a major part of Regina’s life. The glow she has when discussing her favorite dishes is pure passion and nothing can compare to the act of cooking for her. It's how she shows love and nurtures people. When someone is having a rough day, she takes them a plate of food! Regina also calls herself a “collector of cookbooks.” She loves researching new recipes, but then also adding her own twist to them. One of her go-to recipes is spaghetti carbonara by Ruth Reichl.
Regina’s story is the second in our "Downtown That Love Built" series, which highlights the love stories and passionate people that are helping make downtown Harrisonburg a vibrant and growing community. Show off your love for downtown with a Downtown That Love Built T-shirt designed by local artists Jeff Guinn and Zach Carlson.
Written by Emily Faraone, James Madison University student in the School of Media Arts and Design and Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance Promotions Intern. Photos courtesy of Regina