Tech company founder and military veteran Anthony Edwards Jr. has noticed an increase in downloads and use on his eatOkra app — a guide to Black-owned restaurants — after news stories of racially-charged events are shared.
Yelp and Open Table present numerous options in cities across the country and beyond, but it’s difficult for patrons looking to support Black-owned restaurants to locate them, especially if the food served is not classified as “soul food.”
Thankfully, Edwards is looking to solve this issue.
More than 1 million restaurants in the U.S. generate $800 billion in sales annually, making up 4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, according to the National Restaurant Association.
“Gathering and food define our sense of community, and eatOkra permits users to locate and support those communities. Our app is a necessity in locating those safe places to meet and eat without fear of profiling and harassment.” — Anthony Edwards Jr., founder and CEO of eatOkra
While many cities will attempt to highlight Black-owned restaurants with their version of Black Restaurant Week, today’s foodie, conscientious consumer or tech user needs an avenue to locate the restaurants year round.
A New York City resident and web developer, Edwards found himself searching for a Black-owned place to dine in one of the boroughs. Unable to find a curated list online within the city, he started searching other major cities in the U.S.
No such luck.
So Edward and partners, Janique Bradley and Justin Johnson, began to build eatOkra.
“eatOkra is your guide to Black-owned restaurants,” per its website. Available for Android and Apple users, the app has more than 800 black-owned restaurants and food establishments listed in the U.S., Africa, South American and the Caribbean. Restaurant owners, app users and the founders can add restaurants to the growing eatOkra database.
This bootstrapped company began in 2016, with a relaunch of the app in 2017. It has been growing organically through word of mouth.
In particular, Edwards has noted an increase in downloads and use after news stories of racially-charged events are shared.
“Gathering and food define our sense of community, and eatOkra permits users to locate and support those communities. Our app is a necessity in locating those safe places to meet and eat without fear of profiling and harassment”, Edwards said in a prepared statement.
Edwards talked to Moguldom about eatOkra and the future of the mobile application.
Moguldom: How did you go from the military to becoming a web developer?
Anthony Edwards Jr.: I was a sergeant in the U.S. Army as an avionics technician (worked on helicopters). I graduated Fordham University with a BS in Computer Science 2014 and studied at Dev Bootcamp summer 2014. Both college and dev boot camp taught me how to be a web developer.
Moguldom: Did your upbringing or job in the military help you hone your tech skills?
Anthony Edwards Jr.: My upbringing was completely non-technical. I never had an adult figure teach me about programming. On my own, I would teach myself to make websites using Adobe Dreamweaver. A big component I think one needs to become a developer is to have the skill to think critically and logically. The military certainly helped me think critically and at times under heavy pressure. We worked on mission-essential equipment that could mean life or death for the pilots and crew if not maintained to a strict standard.
Moguldom: You have received favorable reviews on the app stores. How are users even finding out about the app?
Anthony Edwards Jr.: Users are primarily learning about the app through people kindly sharing eatOkra via Twitter and Facebook, and word of mouth. This app is entirely self-funded, so we have not yet put any significant amount of money into different avenues of advertising.
Moguldom: How many users do you have now and what do your daily-use stats look like for eatOkra?
Anthony Edwards Jr.: Since Jan. 1, 2017, we have had 1,563 users. We’re happy to report the daily app usage has grown 67 percent since Feb. 1, 2018.
Moguldom: What does the future look like for the company?
Anthony Edwards Jr.: In the immediate future, we plan to build out new app features such as allow users to review businesses and implement functionality around online food businesses and caterers. We also have a Facebook messenger chatbot that is in beta that we would like to complete. We also want to finish building out the backend to allow business owners to manage their business content. In the long term, we want eatOkra to generate enough revenue that a percentage can be used to fund food programs for kids in need or school programs. We would also like to have community events centered on food.